Et Al.: How to Use it Properly

Text says "Et Al." and illustration of a boy with glasses looking perplexed

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In this blog, we will define et al., show you when and how to use it, and provide some common mistakes and plenty of examples so you can use this abbreviation when needed.

Latin—a language considered dead because it is no longer the native language of any culture in the world. However, just because experts label a language as dead, it doesn’t mean it’s completely gone.

The Romance Languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian) all derive from Latin. And even though English is a Germanic language in structure, it borrowed a large number of words from Latin-based languages over the years and even some traditional Latin words are still in use.

This includes some common abbreviations like i.e.(id est; “in other words”), e.g. (exempli gratia; “for example”, etc. (et cetera; “and the rest”) and the topic of this blog.

As an intermediate to advanced learner, you may have seen these Latin abbreviations in some texts you’ve read.

 

(Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full length tutorial on how to use the phrase):

What is Et Al.?

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Et al. is the abbreviation of the term et alia. It means and others, and it is most commonly used as part of a citation in a paper. We use it to show that there are other authors, editors, etc. who contributed to a text. You’ll see it used in the bibliography or reference section of research papers and other texts that use citations. 

If you can’t understand why we use this in a citation, let’s imagine this example:

You’re writing a research paper for your company that will be published for industry-wide use. 

And, one of your sources is a textbook that has over sixty contributing authors and editors (This happened to me when I was in college). Now imagine that you also have two other sources in the paper with forty and fifteen authors besides the first textbook.

In your bibliography, are you going to cite (list out) every single one of those authors? Also, if you cite their work in other sections of your paper, are you going to list out every author, every time? 

No! That’s the beauty of using this abbreviation.

You only have to name two or three authors and then add et al to show that there were more. We’ll go over how to do this in the next section.

 

Using Et Al. (with Examples)

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Remember, et al. is an abbreviation and therefore should always have a period after its usage. You don’t need a period after the et because that is the complete Latin word for and, so you’re not abbreviating it.

And, though we may have put it in italics for emphasis a couple of times in this article, it is not necessary when used as part of a citation. The phrase is considered a common term in English.

Citation Styles

There are three main style standards used in America: APA, MLA, and Chicago. To know which style to use, check with your publisher, editor or professor. But don’t worry, we’ll cover all three styles.

 

APA

For APA style (7th Edition), you cite both authors if a publication has only one or two authors. However, if a publication has three or more authors, you only cite the first author and then use et al. See the table below.

 

# of Authors Citation Example
1 – 2 authors (Brooks & Jones, 2015)
3 or more authors (Brooks et al., 2015)

 

However, APA citation is a little more extensive in the reference section. You’re to list up to 20 authors in full for any publication. You then add an ellipsis (…) and then the final author. 

Example:

Johson, A. C., Beavy, H. J., Woodrow, G. M., Eckhart, L. L., Kinison, J. S., Thompson, T. A., Lumpkin, T., Lawson, R. H., Connor, G., Humphrey, R. L., Madison, P., Gregory, Z. M., Hammond, W., Carson, H., Crenshaw, A., Butts, N. B., Woodail, E., Grey, L. E., Gregory, G., … Knight, T. E. (2016).

 

MLA

MLA style is simpler. Use it with three or more authors in both in-text citations and in the reference section. MLA however, references the page number of a citation instead of the publication year.

 

# of Authors Citation Example Reference / Works Cited
1 – 2 (Applegate and Pearson 57) Applegate and Pearson. …
3 or more (Applegate et al. 57) Applegate, Curtis, et al. …

 

Chicago

Chicago style has two systems of citation you can use in a text, but both notes and bibliography or author–date style use the same rules. 

For sources with one to three authors, list every name for an in-text citation. If a source has four or more authors, cite the first name and then follow with et al.

 

# of Authors Notes and Bibliography Author–Date
1 to 3 Carol Lofton and Will Strawther, … (Lofton and Strawther 2017)
3 or more Carol Lofton et al., … (Lofton et al. 2017)

 

Chicago style bibliographies or reference lists require publications with up to ten authors to be listed. However, if your source has over ten authors, only list the first seven and then follow with et al. 

Also, in Chicago style, you invert the order of the first name (last name then first) and then write the rest in standard order.

Example:

McConnor, Fred, Molly Ringwald, Jessica Simpson, Ronald McDonald, Robert DiNero, Anne Bancroft, Harold Ramis, et al. …

 

Et Al. vs Etc.

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Lastly, let’s explore the difference between et al. and etc. 

Etc. is the Latin abbreviation of et cetera, which means  “and the rest.”

The difference between the two is that we use et al. to refer to a list of people; whereas, we use etc. to refer to a list of things. Also, etc. is common in both informal and formal writing; whereas, et al. is used in formal writing citation. Let’s look at two examples of etc. in use.

Example:

  • I’m bringing several of the kids’ toys (GameBoy, action figures, puzzles, etc.) for the road trip. 
  • We’re bringing all of the usual camping stuff like tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, etc. on our trip. 

Conclusion

With these rules and examples, you’re now ready to use et al. in your citations! Just remember to always put a period after the full abbreviation and be sure to check with your editor for the preferred style usage in your citations. As always, for all things English grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and business English, visit the Magoosh English Speaking Blog.