Et Al. Meaning and How to Use It

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Et al. essentially means “and others,” "extra," or "in addition." It is the abbreviated form of the Latin expression et alia (or et alii or et aliae, the masculine and feminine form of the plural, respectively).

The abbreviation et al. often appears in academic documents. It is generally used in footnotes and citations: for example, when a book has multiple authors, et al. can be used after the first name to indicate that there are more than two other authors who worked on the project. 

How to Use Et Al.

Et al. can be used in a situation that refers to more than two people. Make sure it’s always followed with a period, which indicates that it’s an abbreviation, but given its prevalence in the English language, italicizing it is not necessary in reference citations, though some publications may require it.

According to the APA, it should only be used when there are three or more authors. Citations of this kind will include just the name of the first author and et al. If you’re referencing sources with many of the same authors, spell out as many names as possible before using et al., until there is no room for confusion. If using a different style guide, be sure to reference the corresponding manual as rules can differ.

Keep in mind that since et al. is plural, it must apply to at least two people. For example, if you are dealing with four authors and have typed out three names, you cannot use et al. to substitute the last one, since it cannot be used in place of just one person.

Does it have a place outside of citations? Generally, no. Though not technically incorrect, it would be rare, and overly formal, to see it within an email greeting to multiple people, such as: “Dear Bill et al.” 

Et Al. vs. Etc.

Et al. might sound familiar to another abbreviation we encounter regularly: “etc.” Short for “et cetera”—which means “and the rest” in Latin—“etc.” refers to a list of things, rather than individuals. Unlike et al. which normally makes appearances in academic sources, “etc.” is both formal and informal and can be used in a wide variety of contexts.

Examples of Et Al.

  • Jolly et al. (2017) published a revolutionary study on the role of the gut microbiome: In this sentence, et al. doesn’t appear on a reference list, but still serves to indicate that Jolly and others contributed to the study in question. 
  • Some large-scale surveys found cats to be the preferred pet (McCann et al., 1980) while others found dogs to be the ideal pet (Grisham & Kane, 1981): In this example, et al. is used in the first citation because there are more than two authors. If this is a first citation, that indicates there are six or more authors, or if this is a subsequent citation in the text, there could be three or above authors. Et al. is not used in the last citation because there are only two authors who worked on the study. 
  • Meditation once a week was found to improve focus by 20% in study participants (Hunter, Kennedy, Russell, & Aarons, 2009). Meditation once a day was found to increase focus by 40% among participants (Hunter et al., 2009): This example, though citations of the same study would normally not occur in such close proximity, shows how et al. is used when introducing a work co-authored by three to five individuals. Et al. is reserved for all subsequent citations, with the first clearly naming everyone involved. 

The Other “Et Al.”: Et Alibi

In less common situations, et al. stands for et alibi, which refers to locations that will not appear in a list. For example, if you went on a trip, you could use et alibi when writing down the places and hotels you visited so you don’t have to name all of them. This can also be used to refer to locations within a text. 

How do you remember what this means? Think of an alibi, which is used to prove that a criminal suspect was elsewhere when the crime took place, thus absolving them of suspicion. 

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Bussing, Kim. "Et Al. Meaning and How to Use It." ThoughtCo, Mar. 7, 2022, Bussing, Kim. (2022, March 7). Et Al. Meaning and How to Use It. Retrieved from Bussing, Kim. "Et Al. Meaning and How to Use It." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).