How to Use “Et al.” in Academic Writing

Have you ever wondered what “et al.” means in a citation? Abbreviations like “etc.,” “et al.,” “e.g.,” i.e.,” and “ibid.” are seen very often in academic writing, but many people still don’t know what they mean or how and when to use them correctly. In this article, we will focus on the abbreviation “et al.” to learn what it means, when to use it, and how it should not be used.

What Does “et al.” Mean?

If you think that the abbreviation “et al.” doesn’t even sound like English, you’re right. It’s not English, but Latin. Latin terms are often used in English writing, especially academic writing. “et al.” is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “et alia.” “Et alia” literally translated means “and others.” “Et al.” is therefore most frequently used to indicate multiple authors of a cited work.

“Et al.” has some strong similarities to other Latin abbreviations, namely “etc.” “Etc.” is an abbreviation of another Latin phrase “et cetera.” “Et al.” and “etc.” are easily confused because “etc.” also means “and others.” However, English writers distinguish clearly between “et al.” and “etc.” using one simple rule. “Et al.” is used for people, while “etc.” is used for things or animals. For example, we could say “Jinkyung et al. went to the grocery store to buy ice cream, cookies, etc.” “Et al.” lets us know there are additional people besides Jinkyung, while “etc.” lets us know that they bought other items in addition to ice cream and cookies. “Etc.” is used widely in both formal and informal situations, while “et al.” is generally limited to formal academic writing.

One lesser known use of “et al.” is as an abbreviation of “et alibi.” “Et alibi” translates to “and elsewhere.” It is used in academic writing to indicate locations that do not appear in a list. For example, we could write “Magpies of the genus Pica are found in temperate regions of Europe, Asia, et alibi.” However, “et al.” is not used in this way very often, and for the rest of this article, we will focus on how to use “et al.” as a short form of “et alia.”

 How Do I Use “et al.” in APA Style Citation?

Each citation style uses “et al.” a bit differently. In the 7th edition of APA citation, any work with one or two authors should use the names of all authors in the in-text citation. For example, an article written by MacKenzie and Yun in 2019 would be cited as:

(MacKenzie & Yun, 2019).

If a work has three or more authors, “et al.” should be used after the name of the first author in the in-text citation, unless doing so would cause confusion. An article written by MacKenzie, Yun, and Washington in 2019 would be cited as:

(MacKenzie et al., 2019)

When listing the article in the References section of the paper, all authors are listed unless there are more than 20 authors.

How Do I Use “et al.” in MLA Style Citation?

Like APA, MLA uses in-text citations. We use “et al.” in MLA in-text citations when there are three or more authors, just like APA style. However, unlike APA citation, we also use “et al.” in the Works Cited section when there are three or more authors.

Let us imagine we have the same article written by MacKenzie and Yun in 2019. The in-text MLA citation will look like this:

(MacKenzie & Yun, 2019)

However, the in-text citation of the article written by MacKenzie, Yun, and Washington in 2019 would be cited as:

(MacKenzie et al. 2019)

You will note that there is no real difference between in-text citations using “et al.” with regard to APA and MLA.

What will the Works Cited section look like? If you guessed that we are using “et al.” again, you are correct. We will list the first author before writing “et al.” So, the entry in the Works Cited section will appear as:

 How Do I Use “et al.” in Chicago Style Citation?

There are two different ways to cite sources in a Chicago style paper: author-date or footnotes. However, the way we use “et al.” will not change regardless of whether we are using author-date or footnote citations. The way that “et al.” is used in the reference list or bibliography also stays the same.

In Chicago style, we use “et al.” only when there are four or more authors. List the first author and then write ““et al.”

A source with three authors, like an article written by MacKenzie, Yun, and Washington in 2019, will be cited as follows.

Author-date: (MacKenzie, Yun, & Washington, 2019)

Footnote: Lilac MacKenzie, Ling Yun, and Rebecca Washington…

An article with four or more authors, like an article written by MacKenzie, Barber, Yun, and Washington in 2019, will be cited as follows.

Author-date: (MacKenzie et al., 2019)

Footnote: Lilac MacKenzie et al., …

In the bibliography section, a source with up to ten authors will list all of the authors. If a source has more than ten authors, then you will only list the first seven and then write “et al.”

Therefore, a source written by MacKenzie, Barber, Yun, Washington, Ryan, Jacobson, Grant, Rucker, Sohn, and Ling will be cited in the bibliography section using all ten author names.

10 or fewer authors: MacKenzie, Barber, Yun, Washington, Ryan, Jacobson, Grant, Rucker, Sohn, and Ling, 2019.

But a source written by MacKenzie, Barber, Yun, Washington, Ryan, Jacobson, Grant, Rucker, Sohn, Ling, and Lee will be cited in the bibliography section only using seven names plus “et al.”

11 or more authors: MacKenzie, Barber, Yun, Washington, Ryan, Jacobson, Grant, et al., …

 Common Mistakes to Watch Out for

The most common error in using “et al.” besides citation style is punctuation. There is a period only after “al” in “et al.,” and additional punctuation such as a comma should follow that period. There is no period after “et.”

X et al

X et. al.

X et. al

et al.

If you are worried you might still mix up the correct use of “et al.” or other similar terminology when writing, you can always take advantage of an AI grammar and/or spelling check service. These days, AI is quickly advancing and there are many helpful resources available for academic writers. Whether or not you choose to use such a service, now you will always know how to use “et al.”!

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