The term et al. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “et alia,” which means “and others.” Et al. is commonly used in place of a list of names, whether of people or places, when the list would be exhaustive, or is simply not necessary. The most common use of et al. is found in essays, research papers, and legal writings. To explore this concept, consider the following et al definition.
Definition of Et Al.
Abbreviation of Et Alia
- “And others,” or “and elsewhere”
Usage of Et Al.
The abbreviation “et al.” is similar to the abbreviated phrase “etc.,” which means “and the rest.” Where etc. refers to things, et al. refers to people. Both phrases are so commonly used in the English language that they need not be italicized, but do require a period after the last letter. There are certain rules regarding when the use of et al. is appropriate, though these vary slightly according to the style of writing in use.
Generally speaking, it is best to reserve use of the phrase et al. for formal writing, such as citations in research papers, essays, and other formal documents. Regarding the common question regarding the use of commas with et al., a good rule of thumb is to treat it as the actual phrase “and others.” This generally requires that a comma be placed directly after the name, and before et al.
Stylistic Differences in Use of Et Al.
Often, how et al. is used in a text varies by how the names of the persons are originally listed. In other words, some styles require that all of the names, if there are a limited number of them, be listed the first time to which they are referred. After that, one name, and sometimes only the last name, of the first individual on the list is used, followed by et al.
For instance, in the APA Style (“American Psychological Association” style), et al. is only used if there are more than two names in the list. When there are three to five names, all of them must be spelled out completely the first time they are cited. In subsequent citations in the same paper, only the last name of the first person is listed, followed by et al. with no comma. In the APA Style, where there are six or more names in a citation, it is appropriate to use the first name with et al. every time.
In a text citing a study done by Sarah Smith, Matt Robertson, and Alan Johns, the first citation would read:
“In a 1993 study done by Sarah Smith, Matt Robertson, and Alan Johns, Vitamin X was proven to increase stamina …”
Subsequent citations of the same study or group of researchers would read:
“In the same study, Smith et al. found no correlation between …”
If the list of researchers had included more than five individuals, the list would be shortened, even in its first use. So, if the above list included Sarah Smith, Matt Robertson, Alan Johns, Naomi Rutherford, Amanda Tensley, and Steven Oon, every citation, including the first, would read:
“In a 1993 study done by Smith et al., Vitamin X was proven to increase stamina …”
Which Style Should be Used
APA style is most commonly used in the creation of medical reference materials, scientific and medical studies, and the like. The styles used most often in other types of writing, including essays and informational texts, are AP Style and Chicago Style. The person or entity requesting the paper will usually advise the writer which style is preferred. In some situations, the person requesting the paper, such as a teacher or employer, will simply advise the writer of certain styles he should use, such as Oxford commas, without requiring him to dive into the deep pool of either writing style.
Various writing styles have differing opinions on how compound words are made, how to handle end-of-phrase prepositions, whether or not Oxford commas (also called “serial commas”) are used, how and when such abbreviations as et al. should be used, as well as other rules of grammar and punctuation. Both the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are available online, as well as in written texts. While there is a fee for long-term access, both frequently offer brief trial periods free of charge.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Citation – A reference to a paper, book, or author in a scholarly work; a reference to a previously made court decision or legal authority, in a legal writing.