Two Latin Abbreviations Frequently Used in Scholarly Writing: ‘etc.’ and ‘et al.’ | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
Although most of the Latin abbreviations that were once so common in academic and scientific writing are used much less often these days, two abbreviations that contain the Latin word ‘et,’ meaning ‘and,’ are still used with considerable frequency. Like all Latin abbreviations, however, ‘etc.’ and ‘et al.’ are not always used correctly for a variety of reasons. Sometimes their meanings are not fully understood; at others their structure is not entirely clear to authors; at still others the best way in which to use them is uncertain. A few notes on their meanings, forms and uses may therefore prove helpful to scholarly authors as they prepare their writing for publication.
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The abbreviation ‘etc.’ is the shortened form of the Latin words ‘et cetera,’ which mean ‘and the rest,’ ‘and so forth’ or ‘and other things.’ This abbreviation almost always appears in roman font and should generally be used only in parentheses or ancillary material such as notes. Although some scientific publishers will allow its use in the main running text of a manuscript, equivalent English words such as ‘and so on,’ ‘and so forth’ or ‘and the like’ are usually preferable. When used in lists as this abbreviation often is, the abbreviation should follow at least two (some advice suggests three) items to provide the reader with enough information to conjecture how the list might continue. This means that ‘pens, pencils etc.’ and ‘peaches, pears, apples etc.’ are lists that demonstrate the effective use of the abbreviation, but ‘peaches etc.’ is not. If the serial or Oxford comma is not used in a document, a comma is not required before ‘etc.’ when used in a list, so my examples above would be correct, but if the serial comma is used before ‘and’ in lists, it should also appear before the abbreviation, as in ‘pens, pencils, etc.’ While ‘etc.’ can be used when listing types of people, ‘and others’ (or the abbreviation ‘et al.’ discussed below) is better when listing individual people. The abbreviation ‘etc.’ should not be used at the end of a list that begins with ‘such as,’ ‘e.g.,’ ‘for example’ or ‘including’ because these already indicate that the list will be incomplete. Finally, ‘etc.’ should not be written with an ampersand instead of the ‘et’ part (&c) except when an older source is being duplicated or transcribed.
The abbreviation ‘et al.’ stands for the Latin words ‘et alii’ (masculine), ‘et aliae’ (feminine) or ‘et alia’ (neuter), all of which mean ‘and others.’ Predominantly used for references, this abbreviation can appear in the main running text of a document when, for instance, author names are listed. A full stop should never appear after ‘et’ because it is the complete Latin word for ‘and,’ so it is not abbreviated. A full stop does usually appear after the abbreviated ‘al.’ part, but not in all styles, so sometimes the abbreviation will be ‘et al’ without the stop. In some cases a comma is used before and/or after ‘et al.,’ and italic font is sometimes used and sometimes not. Such details should be determined based on the guidelines provided by the relevant publisher. There is also considerable variation regarding when ‘et al.’ should be used in references – for three or more authors, for four or more or for six or more depending on the guidelines and whether it is used in the main text of a scholarly document or in the list of references. As with all abbreviations, consistency should be observed throughout a manuscript.
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