“Et al.” doesn’t mean that Al has et Writing & Grammar

Hello everyone:

When you are writing a scholarly essay, article, or book, sometimes you will need to cite a document that has more than one author. It can get pretty tiresome to say repeatedly that an article was written by “Smith, Jones, Thomas, George, and Johns.” It doesn’t exactly make your report sing, if you know what I mean.

To alleviate this problem, scholars came up with this wonderful idea to shorten things up substantially by using the Latin words that mean “and others” in their documents. Hence, the term “et al.” was used instead of that boatload of names.

However, as a courtesy, please use all of the names in your first mention of those writers, and only use “Smith et al.” after you have given me all five names the first time you used the reference. That said, if you have six names to mention, then you can correctly say “Smith et al.” in all of your references. We wouldn’t want to have things become too cumbersome here!

Please do not refer to “et al.’s writing,” since this is really weird. That would be like writing “Smith and other’s’ writing.” As you can see, this includes an extra possessive apostrophe and is simply wrong. It would be better expressed as “The writing of Smith et al. is a tribute to the ability to write collaboratively.”

And, no, “et al.” does not mean that a fellow named Al is from the South, where he has already eaten a meal!

If you have any questions about college, please feel free to post a reply to any of my postings and include the topic that you would like to see covered in a future blog.


Dr. Sheri


Sheri Dean Parmelee has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Regent University. She writes books on practical tips for people who become unexpectedly unmarried and is working on her second novel in a series of contemporary romance/suspense novels. She teaches at three colleges, working with students from freshmen to graduate students. Her hobbies include running 8 miles a day and reading biographies and fiction.

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