You might have heard that Latin is dead. However, academic writing is rife with it—especially the abbreviation "et al." It's a Latinate expression, which means it derives from Latin. It's one of the most commonly used terms in academic writing. Academic writers use it in both reference lists and in-text citations.
You don't have to be fluent in Latin to master the use of et al. This guide shows you exactly when and how to use the abbreviation et al. in the APA, MLA, and Chicago formats.
Et Al. Definition
Western scholars haven't always used English in education and publishing. Around 1500, many traditions began to fall out of use, and English gained popularity in academia. However, many English words were less convenient than the Latin ones formerly used. Latin prefixes and suffixes helped scholars to be precise, and Latinate expressions were more familiar than English terms in the context of education.
One such Latinate term is et al. It remains in standard use in academia. But what does et al. mean, anyway?
Many think it stands for "and colleagues," "and associates," or "and co-writers." Those et al. meanings aren't literally correct. It's an abbreviation of the Latin term "et alia," which has different forms but translates to "and others." That means that when you write about a study by Doe et al., you're saying that Doe and others conducted the study.
Why and When to Use Et Al.
Et al. has saved authors time and space for centuries.
When a publication has three or more authors, it can be unwieldy to list them all. That's why some citation styles, such as APA, MLA, and Chicago, simply ask you to name the first writer and add et al. after. This is usually done for in-text citations, but it's necessary for some reference list entries, too.
The first person is listed because they are the main author of the paper. Typically, the remaining co-authors helped the first writer conduct most of the research.
How It's Written
Latin is Roman—and when it comes to formatting, et al. is too.
Some styles italicize et al. to show that it's taken from another language. However, most require it to be Roman: formatted without italics.
They also require that it be used correctly. Add it only to references and always put a period after "al.," even with a comma. The only exception is when a sentence ends with a period (don't use two!). For example, write "The study was by Jones et al."
Avoid these common spelling and punctuation errors:
- et al
- et. al
- et. al.
- et all
- et. all
- et all.
- et. all.
Are Et Alibi, Et Alii, and Other Terms Related to Et Al.?
Et al. isn't like most terms in the English language.
When it's written out, it has different spellings and versions that communicate not only "and others" but also the others' genders. To confuse matters further, et al. is often mixed up with other Latinate terms represented by the same abbreviation.
No matter the version, remember that et al. is always plural. That means writing "When Smith et al. conducted their study, they used a quantitative approach" is correct, but "she used a quantitative approach" is not.
While et al. often refers to people, it can also refer to locations.
It is sometimes used to shorten lists of places. When used that way, it's short for "et alibi," which means "and elsewhere." For example, a sentence might say, "Doe traveled to Canada et al." meaning "Canada and elsewhere."
Scholars created the term "et alibi" in the 16th century, when they began to use English instead of Latin for learning. It comes from the Classical Latin word "alibī," which means "somewhere else."
Et al. written out always means "and others," but it can be written as different versions that communicate gender. "Et alia" is the most common version because it's neutral, meaning that the genders of authors are unclear or mixed.
For example, if two men and one woman wrote a publication, you should use "et alia." You should also use it if you're not sure about the authors' genders or if some or all of the authors are nonbinary.
"Et alii" is another version of the Latinate term "and others." Unlike the former, it means that all the authors it refers to are men. This is because, like French, Latin ascribes "masculine" and "feminine" genders to nouns.
However, "et alii" isn’t as common as "et alia" because it's typically difficult to know every author’s gender. For example, many scholars are credited using only their first initial and surname.
"Et aliae" works like "et alii": it communicates the gender of a group of authors. It means that all the people it refers to are women. This is because the variant is considered "feminine" in Latin.
"Et aliae" is not typically used in academia. "Et alia" is more popular because it can be difficult to be certain of a writer's gender. Nonetheless, this version can be helpful in certain contexts, such as ensuring visibility for women in academia.
How to Use Et Al. in the Three Main Formats
How to Use Et Al. in APA
APA is one of the most common referencing styles in the world. The acronym stands for the American Psychological Association, although the style was created in 1929 by academics in many fields. Their goal was to set a standard for writing to promote reading comprehension.
Today, writers in numerous disciplines use the style to communicate concisely and precisely. The social sciences and a few other fields (listed below) use it most often:
APA is known for avoiding bias in addition to its specific referencing and formatting system. It uses the author−date system, meaning that in-text citations include the last name of each reference's author and publication date, typically in parentheses. An in-text citation might look like this: (Jones, 2021).
For APA, three or more authors are condensed into an in-text citation containing only the first author's surname, followed by et al.
When Et Al. Required in APA
APA uses et al. only for in-text citations; in reference lists, ellipses are used if there are over 20 authors. Both methods have special requirements.
For in-text citations, publications with only one or two authors never use et al. APA requires the Latinate expression only for three or more authors. Furthermore, the et al. abbreviation must be used again in every subsequent citation of the publication in question.
APA Et Al. Example
In academic reference lists, use ellipses when referring to citations with multiple authors, not et al.
- Osborn, N., Cross, D., & Fisk, W. (2021). Shrink rays. Marvel.
- Romanoff, N., Stark, A. E., van Dyne, J., Banner, R. B., Odinson, T., Rogers, S. G., Barton, C., Maximoff, W., Maximoff, P., Charles, L., Shade, V., Pym, H. J., McCoy, H., Danvers, C. S., Wilson, S., Walters, J., Morse, B., Grimm, B., Rhodes, J. R., . . . Parker, P. (2021). Gamma rays. Marvel, 100(10), 1063–1091.
Et Al. in APA In-Text Citations with Multiple Authors
To use et al. in APA in-text citations with multiple authors, references must be placed in parentheses. This includes author names, unless this information can be added directly to the sentence using a narrative citation. If you use parentheses, separate all items using a comma. A semicolon may also be needed, depending on how many sources you're citing.
For example, if you have more than one source, it may be best to enclose each one in the same set of parentheses and separate the citations using semicolons. In such cases, arrange the sources alphabetically by the authors' surnames.
- A study by Smith et al. (2021) had similar results.
- Other studies had similar findings (Doe, 2022; Jones, 2020; Smith, 2021).
How to Use Et Al. in MLA
The use of et al. in MLA citations is like that of APA. The former style was created in 1931 by Cyril Arthur Peerenboom, a member of the Modern Language Association, from which we take the acronym "MLA." Peerenboom's goal was to establish a standard system for references, bibliographies, and quotations.
Today, the style is used around the world, although the following fields in the humanities use it most often:
- English language and literature
- Comparative literature
- Culture studies
- Foreign studies
A hallmark of MLA is the works cited page. It is simply a reference list, but it is titled "Works Cited." Like APA, the system uses the author−date method and places in-text citations in parentheses. However, it doesn't separate the items in each citation with a comma—and when a publication has more than three authors, et al. is used in both in-text citations and the works cited list.
When Et Al. Is Required in MLA
It's very simple to cite sources with multiple authors in MLA, as there are only two requirements: 1) use et al. if a source has three or more authors and 2) always repeat its use when the citation appears again. This applies to both in-text citations and works cited references with multiple authors.
This method may be more efficient than APA since it doesn't require scholars to write out long lists of authors. Like in APA, the citations need to be organized alphabetically by surname, both in parenthetical in-text citations and in the works cited list at the end of the document.
MLA Et Al. Example
To use et al. in an MLA-formatted works cited list, simply list the first author of a publication by surname and first name (separated by a comma), a comma, and et al.—no matter the source's genre.
- Doe, Jane, et al. Joy and Judgement: Feminism in Georgian Bath. Pride Books, 2021.
- Brown, Emily, et al. "Weathering Peaks: The Symbolism of Clouds." Studies in Rainy Romance Literature, vol. 30, no. 4, 2022, pp. 19–38.
Et Al. in MLA In-Text Citations with Multiple Authors
For et al. in MLA in-text citations with multiple authors, names are condensed in a manner similar to APA's system. The first author is listed, followed by et al. and the year the document in question was published—although no comma should separate these items.
These citations can be placed in parentheses or used narratively. If more than one source needs to be cited, it's usually best to use one set of parentheses and separate the sources with semicolons, arranging them alphabetically.
- This is supported by Wordsworth et al.'s research (2021).
- This argument is supported by extant research (Coleridge 2021; Wordsworth et al. 2019).
How to Use Et Al. in Chicago Style
Chicago style is different from APA and MLA because it doesn't use just in-text citations in the author─date format. It also gives authors the option to use a notes and bibliography format. Never mix the two systems.
Chicago style is older than the other two methods discussed here. It refers to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), which began in 1891 as a style sheet for consistent writing among professors at the University of Chicago. Today, it's a book with 17 editions that has become standard in the publishing industry.
Several academic fields use it often, such as the following:
- Art history
Chicago style is sometimes called Turabian style because Kate Turabian, a professor at the University of Chicago, wrote a citation guide for students that closely followed CMOS. This guide became a standard for students in almost every field.
When Et Al. Is Required in Chicago Style
If you're using the author─date system, et al. uses in Chicago are similar to those in MLA. Sources with four or more authors must use et al. for in-text citations, while sources with 11 or more authors must list the first seven in the reference list. Otherwise, all authors must be given. The same method is used for the notes and bibliography system.
However, Chicago differs from both MLA and APA when it comes to authors' names. The first author's name is given as Surname, First Name, while the remaining authors' names are the opposite: First Name Surname.
Chicago Style Et Al. Example
Et al. is used in bibliographies or reference lists for sources with over 11 authors, unlike citing with et al. in a sentence.
- Kent, Clark, Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen, Wally West, Selina Kyle, Lois Lane, Dick Grayson, et al. "Villainy and Defeat: A Case Study." Detective Comics 42, no. 5 (May 2021): 123–54.
- Nigma, Edward, Harleen Quinzel, Jonathon Crane, Cyrus Gold, Arnold Wesker, Oswald C. Cobblepot, Harvey Dent, et al. Criminal Empires for Dummies. New York: Detective Comics, 2021.
Et Al. in Chicago Style In-Text Citations
As previously mentioned, in-text citations using et al. in Chicago's author─date system are similar to MLA's. For sources with more than four authors, give the first author's surname and the publication year. Do not put a comma between the items.
For the notes and bibliography system, place a superscript number beside the relevant information after the terminal punctuation, such as a period or an exclamation mark. If the citation would be most logically placed in the middle of a sentence, place a superscript number beside the relevant information after a comma, colon, or semicolon. The superscript number should match a corresponding footnote at the bottom of the page.
- The patient presented with red eyes and complained of a burning sensation (Lane 2022).
- An eye exam was conducted to examine the patient.1
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What's the Main Difference Between Et Al. and Etc.?
When using many in-text citations, it's easy to accidentally write "etc." in place of et al. However, while the two terms are similar, et al.'s meaning is different from etc.'s. Et al. is short for "et alia," while etc. is short for "et cetera," which is Latin for "and the rest."
That means et al. is used to shorten lists of names, whereas etc. is used to shorten lists of objects. For example, you might write, "The patient had all necessary items with her (birth certificate, driver's license, health card, etc.)."
Etc.'s use in formal academic writing is strongly discouraged by many referencing styles, including Chicago. This is because the abbreviation is typically used in casual contexts. If its inclusion is necessary, it's best to keep its use to parenthetical lists and tables and to use it sparingly.
Common Spelling Errors
One of the most common mistakes when using et al. is misspelling the term. Below are just a few examples of what can go wrong:
- et all
- et. all
- et. al
- et al
- at el
Et all is a common—although understandable—mistake. "Al" sounds like the English word "all," so many people hear the Latinate term and confuse it with the English term. It doesn't help that et al. means "and others," while "all" can refer to every person in a group.
Which Format Should You Use?
It can be hard to know which style to use when creating references. However, some styles are more common in certain fields than others. For example, APA is common in psychology and sociology, while MLA is common in literature and culture studies. Chicago is often used in history and philosophy.
It's generally best to pick a style commonly used in your field to ensure your work reflects your expertise. Be wary of accidentally mixing styles—this can cause inconsistencies. For example, for APA in-text citations, multiple authors are represented by et al., which is separated from the main author's name using a comma, whereas that punctuation isn't used in MLA with multiple authors.
What If You Don't Use Et Al.?
Forgetting to use et al. in a sentence or a reference list can be disastrous. The term is meant to save time and space by shortening lists of people, so leaving it out can mean hours spent typing in details that will only be removed later.
Imagine spending an entire day getting every single name right—only to have a journal remove most of those details and replace them with et al.! To add to the frustration, sentences and reference lists become unwieldy without abbreviations. Academic documents are often quite long; readers appreciate the use of et al. to condense them.
Citing Social Media
Most formal documents use et al. when citing journal articles, books, and dissertations. However, technology is evolving—and so are research and communication. Scholars are increasingly using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Upgrade your work by learning how to use et al. when citing social media posts.
It used to be coffee shops. Now, it's Twitter: the platform is rapidly becoming a discourse hub for scholars and other professionals. One reason for this is the platform's features; it allows professionals to share work and ideas with thousands of people at the click of a button.
Twitter also allows users to customize their feeds by following people and organizations so they only see posts they're interested in. This filters out distractions and fosters creativity and inspiration. Twitter is so popular among scholars that some say it's necessary for success . . . and for collecting primary sources.
In APA, the rules for et al. remain the same regardless of genre—although et al. is used for participants in a Twitter thread rather than authors. The original poster is the first "author."
For reference lists, use the handles of up to 19 authors. Then, add an ellipsis and the last author. For in-text citations, use et al. for threads with three of more authors and place the reference in parentheses.
- Twitter is rapidly gaining popularity in academia (Merudio et al., 2021).
- Merudio [@MerudioEditing]. (2021, December 22). Master using APA, MLA, and Chicago formats in documents [Tweet; thumbnail link to article]. Twitter. URL
MLA is a little more specific than APA, although the two systems are similar. MLA uses et al. for in-text citations and reference entries for threads with more than two participants.
For the latter, only the handle of the first author—the initial poster—needs to be given, and the symbol "@" is used for the entry. Position the source in the works cited list alphabetically, according to the first letter in the handle.
- Twitter is rapidly gaining popularity in academia (@MerudioEditing et al. 2021).
- @MerudioEditing (Merudio) et al. "Master using APA, MLA, and Chicago formats in documents." Twitter, 22 Dec. 2021, URL.
For Chicago, use the abbreviation in a reference list or footnote only when a Twitter thread has over 11 authors. List the first seven, then add the Latinate expression to the citation. For in-text references, give the first author, followed by et al. and the year.
- Twitter is rapidly gaining popularity in academia (Merudio et al. 2021).
- Merudio (@MerudioEditing), Scribendi (@Scribendiinc), American Psychological Association (@APA_Style), Modern Language Association (@MLA_Style), Chicago Manual of Style (@ChicagoManual), APA Journals (@APA_Journals), MLA International Bibliography (@MLABiblio), et al. "Master using APA, MLA, and Chicago formats in documents." Twitter, Dec 22, 2021, 8:00 am. URL.
How to Cite a Facebook or Instagram Post
Twitter isn't the only platform that fosters academic discussion. Many scholars have recognized that Facebook and Instagram have serious potential for communication and other uses within academia. Posts also provide value as primary sources for research on social media behavior, addiction, and other topics.
However, et al. means "and others," and many Facebook and Instagram posts are created by single authors. It's important to remember that the Latinate expression is needed only for citing group social media posts. These might take the form of single posts authored by several people or discussion threads in online communities.
The same rules for using et al. in APA citations apply to both Facebook and Instagram posts. For in-text citations, use et al. for group posts by three or more authors. However, for reference list entries, name up to 19 authors, and follow them with an ellipsis.
For the title, use the first 20 words of the post, as shown here:
- Facebook is receiving significant attention among scholars (Merudio et al., 2021).
- Merudio [18 other author names here] . . . Scribendi. (2021, December 22). Facebook has the potential to help scholars establish a digital presence in the world of academia [Status update]. Facebook. URL
Et al. is used for Instagram sources in MLA only when the sources have been created by groups of people. For example, you might use the Latinate term when citing a comment thread with a lively discussion.
The format is similar to citing a Tweet: for in-text citations, only the account holder's name is needed, but for works cited pages, both the account holder’s name and handle should be included.
- As Merudio et al. (2021) stated, "Instagram is a valuable source of primary information."
- Merudio [@MerudioEditing]. Instagram is a valuable source of primary information. Instagram, 22 Dec. 2021, URL.
Citing group posts in Chicago style is as simple as citing other media. Use the standard author─date system or notes and bibliography system. For in-text references, use et al. if a post has four or more authors, but for reference list citations, use et al. if a post has 11 or more authors.
- Be sure to check the number of authors a source has when citing with "et al." (Merudio et al. 2021).
- Merudio. [@MerdudioEditing], [6 more authors here], et al. (2021, December 22). It can be tricky to cite using "et al." sometimes. [Video File]. Retrieved from URL
How to Cite a YouTube Video
Another social media platform that's growing in popularity among scholars is YouTube. Academics are using it to increase their digital presence and share their knowledge and research with the public. In addition, the platform's established position in the online environment has led to its use as a primary source of learning for many casual users.
However, single accounts typically post YouTube videos—similar to Facebook and Instagram posts. Common et al. examples are group discussions in comments on videos or films produced by teams, such as streams in which multiple internet personalities explain various topics.
In APA, if 20 or more creators contribute to a film, the first 19 should be included in the reference list, followed by an ellipsis and the last creator’s name. However, et al. should be used for in-text citations if three or more people contribute to a video. In both cases, the account that uploads the film should be listed as its first author.
- Merudio, [18 more authors here] . . . Scribendi. (2021, December 22). APA and MLA: What's the difference? [Video]. YouTube. URL
- Merudio et al. explain the differences between APA and MLA in a video on YouTube (2021).
MLA uses et al. in YouTube citations for sources with three or more authors. The video's first listed creator is used as the main "author"; the account that uploaded the video comes later. In-text citations list the first creator's name, followed by et al. The works cited entry is always added to the list in alphabetical order according to the first creator’s surname, as shown here:
- Merudio et al. (2021, December 22). "APA and MLA: What’s the difference?" YouTube, uploaded by Merudio, 22 Dec. 2021, URL.
- There are many similarities between MLA and APA (Merudio et al. 2021).
Citing a YouTube video using Chicago is similar to citing other social media posts in this style. Bibliography and note entries name the film's creators, then provide the video's title in quotation marks. In-text author─date citations list the creators and the film's upload date. The platform name isn't included, but time stamps are required if a particular moment in a film is being referred to.
- Merudio, [6 other authors here], et al. "APA and MLA: What’s the difference?" December 22, 2021. Educational video, 1:23. URL.
- Merudio et al. state that MLA and Chicago have many similarities (2021, 1:23).
4 Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Do I Cite an Article in an Essay Using Et Al.?
Articles are common in academia. However, citing them often requires the use of et al., and there’s no single style of using this Latinate abbreviation. It's important to check the rules for the style you're using.
That being said, many styles have similarities. For example, both MLA and APA in-text citations with multiple authors use the Latinate term for works by three or more writers—although APA uses a comma, while MLA does not.
- Many scholars agree that APA is a valuable citation style (Merudio et al., 2021).
- MLA is used by academics in the English literature field (Merudio et al. 2021).
2. How Do I Use Et Al. in MLA for an Academic Paper?
MLA style is one of the simplest formats, making it easy to understand. It uses et al. for all sources with over two authors—for both the in-text citations and works cited lists in academic papers.
For in-text citations, use the first author's surname, followed by "et al." and the publication date. For example: MLA style was invented in 1931 by a member of the Modern Language Association (Merudio et al. 2021).
For works cited entries, use a similar combination: Merudio et al. "The History of MLA Style." Referencing Help, vol. 1, no. 3, 2021, pp. 16–24.
3. How Do I Write Et Al. in Chicago Style for a Thesis?
In Chicago style, et al. is used in a bibliography when a source has over 11 authors. In contrast, et al. is used for in-text citations when a source has four or more authors.
For example, a thesis with 12 authors would be cited in a bibliography as follows: Merudio et al., "From Novice to Master: Learning How to Cite in Chicago Style" (master's thesis, University of Toronto, 2021).
For an in-text citation, the author citing the work would use et al. in a sentence, as follows: Merudio et al. (2021) outlined the steps for citing works with multiple authors.
4. What Does Et Al. Mean?
Et al. is an abbreviation commonly used by scholars; it's a Latin term left over from when Greek and Latin were the Western languages of learning. It's short for "et alia," which means "and others"—not "and colleagues," "and coworkers," or "and all," which many people confuse it with.
Et al. is used to shorten lists of authors when citing sources in academic works, preventing reference lists from getting unwieldy. For example, an author might write "The study was conducted by Doe et al." for concision, and it would mean that Doe and others conducted the study in question.
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