Grammar 7 min read

What Et Al. Means and how to use it Like a Pro

Et al. is an abbreviation for a Latin phrase that means and others.

When an academic paper has more than one author, we use it after the principle author’s name to substitute multiple names in footnotes and bibliographies.

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Main Takeaways:

  • Et al. comes from the Latin word meaning and others.
  • It’s used in scholarly texts and other source-inclusive writing like footnotes 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.
  • Et al. is for lists of people while etc. is for lists of things.
  • Et al. can also stand for et alibi. It means and elsewhere and is used to reference a subject that appears in other places in a text.

What Does Et Al. Stand for?

The term is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase et alia. This is a gender-neutral term that means and others. It can also stand for et alii, which is the masculine version usually used for all male-authors. On the other hand, et aliae is the feminine version usually used for all-female authors. Et al. can also stand for et alibi, which means and elsewhere. In this context, it usually references a subject that appears in other places in a text. Think of an alibi for a crime and it’s connection with a place: it confirms you were somewhere than the crime scene when the crime took place.

An elegantly dressed cartoon gentleman explains that et. al means
Et al. simply means “and others” in English.

While et al. is one of many Latin phrases the English language has borrowed, it isn’t as common as others. In fact, it appears almost exclusively in very formal writing, like scholarly text and academic publications.

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

How do you Read Et al.?

Et al. is the abbreviated way to write the term. However, when you say it out loud, you should say the full term et alia or et alii. Another option is to say the English translation and others just like you might say for example when reading e.g., out loud.

Similarly, you write etc. but when read it out loud, you say the full term et cetera.

How do you Use Et Al.?

Use this Latin phrase to show that there are additional contributors or collaborators that don’t appear on a list. First, list the name of the principle author. Then, add a space. Next, add et al. Don’t forget to add a period after al.

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
The INK square character pictured with a mustache and holding an academic pointer. He's pointing at
Et al. is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “et alia,” which means “and others” in English.

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.

APA Rules for Using Et al.:

  • Don’t italicize it.
  • You don’t use it 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.

Benefits of Using Et al.

First, it shortens or simplifies references such as bibliographies, in-text citations, and footnotes that include two or more contributors or authors.

Secondly, this phrase can also be a useful tool for keeping book covers uncluttered. This is especially the case for books like multi-author collections or anthologies.

How to Punctuate Et Al.

1. When to use a Period

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*
You may see Et al. written without any periods. This may be more acceptable in less formal documents.
Et al. shortens or simplifies references such as bibliographies, in-text citations, and footnotes that include two or more contributors or authors.
Et al. shortens or simplifies references such as bibliographies, in-text citations, and footnotes that include two or more contributors or authors.

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.

2. When to use a Comma

Do not put a comma between the last surname in the list and et al.

However, a comma may follow Et al. where you would need a comma to maintain correct grammar. One example is in situations where the phrase and others would require a comma after it:

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

Another example is with dates:

The findings of the recently published study (Fuertes et al., 2020) confirm that including critical thinking exercises in the curriculum improve some test scores.

Et Al. vs. Etc.

It’s true that et al. and etc. both come from Latin. They are also both abbreviations. And, we use them both to stand in for items not explicitly included in a list.

However, these terms aren’t interchangeable.

On one hand, et al. refers to people and is short for et alia. It means and others.

On the other hand, etc. refers to concepts or things and is short for et cetera. It means and so forth.

A period always comes after 'al' in et al. because it's an abbreviation of the Latin word 'alia.'
A period always comes after ‘al’ in et al. because it’s an abbreviation of the Latin word ‘alia.’

What’s more, et al. usually appears in formal research-driven or scholarly texts. Conversely, etc. appears in most types of writing.

(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.

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

In Latin, et alibi means and elsewhere.

You can use it at the end of a list of locations. In this case, it functions as a stand-in for places rather than people or things.

However, we don’t mean geographical or physical places like Canada, or Las Vegas. When considering the other et al., the meaning in most cases is slightly different. In this way, we usually use it to refer to page numbers in book or specific lines in a text.

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

In other words, we use to let the reader know exactly where to go in a text to find the information we just referenced

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

Unless you’re a student, an academic, or a researcher, you may never have to use et al. in anything you write.

Quick Et Al. Quiz

Et Al. Question #1

Et al. is mainly useful in formal writing.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is TRUE. Et al. is used in academic citations when referring to a source with multiple authors.

Et Al. Question #2

Select the odd one in the list below.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is B. Et alii and et aliae are gender-sensitive variants of et alia, which means "and others." Meanwhile, et alibi means "and elsewhere."

Et Al. Question #3

Which statement is incorrect?
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is A. Et al. has a Latin origin.

Et Al. Question #4

Et al. and Etc. are interchangeable in a sentence.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is FALSE. Unlike Et al., which refers to people, etc. refers to concepts or things.

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

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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