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Et al vs. Etc

Filed on: November 5, 2007 | Written by | 4 comments

The other day I was approached with a very peculiar query. The person wanted to know the difference between "et al." and "etc." The person also added, and I quote, "if there is any!" The term "et al." is an abbreviation for the Latin term et alia that means and others, the others being people and not things. It is affixed after the name of a person, e.g., a researcher to indicate that additional people were involved in the work or were acting in the same manner. For example, in the sentence "The work was completed by Shimazu et al.," the term et al. indicates that Shimazu and others (his co-workers or colleagues) were involved in completing the work. On the other hand, the word etc, the abbreviation of et cetera, means and the rest or and so forth. It is used at the end of a list to indicate that the list is not complete and only some of the involved items have been mentioned. Further, when a list is introduced using "such as" or "e.g.," the use of the term "etc" is redundant.


Incorrect: It was reported that some metal ions such as zinc, copper, and vanadium, et al. were useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.

Correct: It was reported that some metal ions such as zinc, copper, and vanadium were useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.

Also Correct: Zinc, copper, vanadium, etc. were the metal ions reported to be useful in the therapy for diabetes mellitus.

In the above example, since the reference is being made to elements and not people the use of the term et al. is incorrect.


[This is part of a series of posts, titled Useful Links, which shall feature "essential" online tools, discussions, blogs, essays and references that we find over the Internet.]

4 Responses to "Et al vs. Etc"

Editage says:
On November 10th, 2010

Our response to the comment posted on Oct 16 is as follows:

In the example provided, wife, children, parents, and brothers are not pronouns. They are merely nouns referring to types of people (examples of pronouns are his, hers, they, he, she). In this case, we hope the following explanation helps:

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, et alii or et alia (abbreviated as et al.) means “and others” and is normally used of persons.
Et cetera (abbreviated as etc.) means “and so forth/and other things” and is normally used of things and not people.
Thus, the Chicago Manual of Style tells us that et al. is best used with names of people, for example, “In a study conducted by Brown, Smith, Harris, et al. in 2009…”

The Oxford Style Manual puts things a little more clearly in the context of your question. It simply states that it is offensive to use etc. when listing individual people (this is similar to the view taken by the Chicago Manual of Style). The Oxford Style Manual further says that etc. can be used when listing types of people (wife, children, parents, brothers, etc.).

Thus, it would be correct to use etc. in the example you provided.

Anonymous says:
On October 17th, 2010

What about at the end of a list of pronouns? Is etc. or et al. appropriate there?

For example, "He invited his wife, children, parents, brothers, et al. / etc., to the ceremony." Which is correct? Thanks.

Manfred says:
On July 3rd, 2009

I fully agree except for the Latin term "et alia" which would mean "and other things" (neutrum pluralis). It should be "et alii" or "et aliae" referring to (male or female) persons.

Anonymous says:
On February 18th, 2009

Reminder, too, that the al. in et al. always takes a period (which is not true in the page tag -- probably because tags can't have punctuation).


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