Grammar 6 min read

When and How to use Et Al. in Citations

Et al. is a Latin phrase that means and others. It’s a common stand-in for multiple names in footnotes and bibliographies. This guide explores how and when to use et al. in scholarly texts and other source-inclusive writing.

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Main Takeaways:

  • Et al. comes from the Latin word meaning and others.
  • It’s used in footnotes, in bibliographic lists, and on the covers of books that have multiple authors or contributors.
  • The period comes after the al because it’s an abbreviation of alia.
  • This abbreviation appears in lists of people. Etc. appears in lists of things.
  • Et al. can also stand for et alibi. It means and elsewhere, and it references occurrences of a subject or word in a body of text.

While et al. is one of many Latin phrases the English language has borrowed, it hasn’t reached common usage. In fact, many people go through life never using et al. at all.

Writers who do want to understand how to use et al. should know a few important things about this imported term. That includes where it came from, what it means, and how to use it in citations and sentences.

What Does Et Al. Mean?

To define et al., start with its Latin origin. The term is an abbreviation of et alia, a gender-neutral term that means and others. It can also stand for et alii, which is the masculine version, and et aliae, which is the feminine version.
Et al. is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase
Et al. is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “et alia,” which means “and others” in English.

How Do You Use Et Al.?

This Latin phrase indicates that there are additional contributors or collaborators that don’t appear on a list. It shortens or simplifies references such as bibliographies, in-text citations, and footnotes that include two or more contributors or authors. It can also be a useful tool for keeping book covers of multi-author collections or anthologies uncluttered.

et al. in a citation: After several rounds of analysis, the survey-based research (Ruben et al., 2016) led to the theory that dog was woman’s best friend.
et al. in a bibliography: Ruben, Kate “Woman’s Best Friend: Canine as Companion” The Four-Legged Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition. Ed. Percival Mutt, et al. 2016. 62-79

Many style guides advise writers to include all names in the initial citation, only using et al. in subsequent mentions.

Getting To the Point: Rules for Punctuating Et Al.

When using et al., there’s an easy rule for remembering where the period goes. Since the al is an abbreviation of alia, place the period after it to indicate a shortened word.

et al.
et. al
et. al.
et al*
*Et al. is often written without any periods. It may be acceptable this way in less formal documents.

On the other hand, if the phrase sits at the end of a sentence, it requires a single period.

I was surprised to find that it isn’t difficult to punctuate et al.

Commas and Et Al.

There should be no comma between the last surname in the list and et al.

A comma may follow Et al. in situations where the phrase and others would require a comma following it.

The little-known source he used, which was credited to Jacobson et al., should be acceptable for our purposes.

Et Al. vs. Etc.: What’s the Difference?

Although et al. and etc. are both used to stand in for any items not explicitly included in a list, they aren’t interchangeable. Et al. refers to people, while etc. refers to concepts or things.

Unlike et al., which appears in research-driven or scholarly texts, etc.appears in most types of writing. It’s short for etcetera, another Latin phrase, and it means and so forth.

(etc.): The local farm stand has a wide variety of produce: apples, pears, cherries, lettuce, green beans, etc.
(et al.): Creation of a new vaccine was credited to the groundbreaking research done in 2016 by Hudson et al.

Et Al. Meets the APA

What’s more, the rules of usage can vary depending on the stylebook you follow. In particular, the APA Stylebook has several specific rules when it comes to et al.

  • Don’t italicize Et al.
  • You don’t use et al. for references with one or two authors.
  • If a reference has three, four, or five authors, the first citation should not use et al. All subsequent citations should include et al.
  • References with six or more authors should include one name, followed by et al.
  • If et al. creates ambiguity, names may be written out in all citations. This may include citations with overlapping authors.

Yes, There Are Two of Them—The Other Et Al.

After clearing up the confusion between et al. and etc., let’s examine the other et al., et alibi.

First, in Latin, et alibi means and elsewhere. Use it when terminating lists. In this case, however, it functions as a stand-in for places rather than people or things.

It’s easy to misunderstand this meaning because place conjures up countries, like Canada, or cities, such as Las Vegas. But, when considering the other et al., the meaning in most cases is slightly different.

For example, Et alibi is used to reference specific occurrences of subjects or words in a body of text such as The Bible or Harry Potter.

In her comprehensive guide to mythological creatures, the author referred to sea serpents on pages 12, 34, 57, 92, et al.

Adding Et Al. to Your Writing Tool Kit

Unless you’re a student, an academic, or a researcher, you may never have to use et al. in anything you write. Still, a few simple rules can help you understand this Latin abbreviation quickly.

Ultimately, et al. is a handy gadget to keep in your formal writing tool kit. It can provide a way to shorten and simplify citations if the need should arise.

Read More: Quid Pro Quo: What it is and how to use it, a Quick Guide

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