Et al. is used to shorten the list of names when a writer refers to a book, article or other published work that has three or more authors. Et al. means “and others.” It’s an abbreviation of the Latin et alii. It’s mainly used by academic writers when they cite other authors’ work in a paper or article.
In popular media, et al. may be used when referring to books or articles. For example, a magazine article might refer to the book Inflation Targeting: Lessons from the International Experience as being written by “Ben Bernanke, et al.” It can also be used as a general replacement for and others, as in “She was accompanied by the vice president, the secretary of state, et al.”
Punctuation of Et Al.
Because et al. is an abbreviation, it should be written with a period at the end. The period must be included in formal academic usage, but in popular media it’s sometimes left out. The period rule also applies in cases when et al. is used in the middle of a sentence.
Using Et Al. for In-Text Citations
Rules for using et al. vary among different types of writing and publication requirements. The most common use of et al. is in citations that academic writers use when they refer to the work of other authors and researchers. Using et al. makes it easier to refer to books or articles that have many authors.
In general, when you cite a book or article with one or two authors, every in-text citation should include the last name of each author. If there are three, four, or five authors, all names should be used in the first citation. After that, citations should include only the first author’s name followed by a comma and et al. If there are six or more authors, all in-text citations should use the first author’s name followed by a comma and et al.
Sometimes more than one book or article will have many of the same authors. Sometimes these citations even include the same author names in the same order. In this case, list the number of names needed to avoid confusing the reader, even if you need to list three names or more before et al. to create clarity. For example, one citation might be “Abbot, Bradley, Charles, et al.” while another might be “Abbot, Bradley, Davis, et al.” In this case, using “Abbot, Bradley, et al.” for both sources would be confusing.
Remember that et al. is plural, and must refer to at least two authors. Citations that match all names but one can’t be shortened with et al. Instead, each citation needs to include all authors.
When working on a long paper, it can often be hard to remember if a citation has been used more than once. It’s a good idea to keep a list: When a work is cited for the second time, you can note it on the list for quick reference later on.