Proper punctuation for "et al."?

How do you properly punctuate “et al.”? Let’s say I have multiple authors, for one example. Here’s a muliple choice. You pick!

a) …Smith, et al.
b) …Smith et al.
c) …Smith, et al
d) …Smith et al

Notice the subtle changes with the comma and/or period. You may ignore the ellipsis (three dots) preceeding each example, adn assume the example does not end a sentence. You see, there are certain rites given to those who write it right! Whew!


  • Jinx

“I plan to change my name to Ibid., or better yet, Repete!!!”

I’d pick b. “Et” is a complete word, “al.” is an abbreviation for “alii” (or variation thereof) and thus needs a period. The comma really has nothing to do with “et al.,” but might be used or not depending on what’s in the “…” part.

Oh dang, I misread the title and thought it was proper proununciation of “et al.”. Which I’ve always wondered about. I’ve always said “et all” which is probably horribly wrong and makes me sound like an uncultured rube. How should this be read outloud? Or should you use the full-length phase when reading outloud?

A is correct. While “et al.” does indeed mean “and the others” (or something like that – I never took latin), it is not used as strictly as the words would be written were they in english. It rather takes a comma, idiosyncratically, as if it were as aside like my use of the word “idiosyncraticallly” earlier in this sentence.

It’s typically pronounced “et ahl” but you’re not really supposed to pronounce the the abbreviation and instead say “et alia.” I suppose you’re really supposed to conjugate it, but as I said, i never took latin and can’t be arsed.


Sorry, Cliffy. My now old-fashioned but much-thumbed Chicago Manual of Style 13th edition says B) - no comma.

It’s definitely “et al.” with a period, but whether or not to include the comma is a matter of style. In scientific publications, I see it almost universally as E. Mapcase has it, without a comma: Colibri et al. 2003.

Treat et al. as if it were and others. Thus, if you’re like the Brits (and me), and you use a concluding comma in a list before the ‘and,’ then go ahead and throw in the comma. E.g.,

However, if you punctuate in the American style:

However, note that in both American and British usage when there is no previous comma delineated list…

Peace -moriah et al.

No full stop in The Times house style. We Brits tend to dispense with full stops in abbreviations these days. It’s “etc” not “etc.”, “Mr” not “Mr.”, “BBC” not “B.B.C.”, “J M Smith” not “J. M. Smith”. Personally I think it looks cleaner, and avoids the risk of being taken for the end of a sentence. The full stop is totally unnecessary IMO - it’s obvious that it’s an abbreviation, and not just that someone called Al helped out.

Comma not specified, but I wouldn’t use one.

Incidentally, moriah, the “Oxford comma” (ie that before “and” when concluding a list) is also frowned upon by most publishers in the UK these days.

Moriah, I think you may have it backwards. I think that the Americans use the final comma, while Brits don’t.

I am American and grew up with the extra comma, but the organisation I work for (note the “s”), uses the British style. And I tell you, even after 3 years of this, I still find it really hard to follow the logic of some lists that leave out that critically necessary last comma!

IRCC, University of Chicago style uses a comma after the next to last item in a list. On the other hand, several U.S. newspapers do not use it. I also have been under the impression that dispensing with the comma was mainly a British style. However, usage does vary quite a bit in the U.S. (I looked into this with regard to a book I recently published; I ended up using the comma in accord with “Chicago” style.)

With regard to et al. (and other Latin abbreviations such as i.e.), formerly they were normally italicized, but today often are not (although this also varies depending on the style book you use).

Just a question for those that write “, and”. Are you aware that the reason for the commas between the items in a list is to avoid repeating the word “and”? Thus “A and B and C and D” comes out as “A, B, C and D”. “A, B, C, and D” can only be interpreted as “A and B and C and and D”

Yes, but… sometimes you need that last comma. Consider the list “A, B, C and D, E, and F”. If you wrote it as “A, B, C and D, E and F” it would have a different grouping and therefore meaning.

Yes, the serial comma often eliminates ambiguity, and I have yet to find a case where it created ambiguity. The classic example is the apocryphal book dedication, “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

I recently copyedited the second of two books I’ve done for an author who vehemently insists on omitting the serial comma. I found many convoluted and ambiguous lists that would have benefitted from the serial comma, but I had to leave them as is. Too bad for her readers. Her insistence on not being “old-fashioned” (her words) gets in the way of any desire she might have to be clear.

Regarding the OP, I will second Colibri that its inclusion in the OP’s example is a matter of style. Chicago 15 (6.23, p. 246) also prescribes the serial comma with “et al.” for multiple authors. But the important thing is to determine your system and be consistent.

SunSpace and Scarlette67 raise a very good point. I hate when people fail to put the last comma in a serial listing. It becomes ambiguous. By doing so, they fail to fully understand the important role of the comma in a serial listing…leaving the reader guessing the the intended meaning.

People, consider your readers! Please be diligent about the proper use of commas! - Jinx

I seem to have misplaced my Bluebook, which is the generally-recognized manual of style for legal writing, but I’m quite sure it requires an initial comma before et al. I suppose the lawyers and the scientists will have to agree to disagree on this.


Actually, Cliffy, I just checked my Bluebook, and it says no comma for lists of authors’ or editors’ names (and it’s omitted entirely in case names).

From what I understand, “lawyer style” is highly idiosyncratic, wildly different from journalistic, academic, or book-publishing styles.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone in those fields even checking what lawyer style is. It would only be confusing.

I distinctly remember being taught how to write lists when I was in primary school (elementary school). We were definitely taught to leave out the comma before the ‘and’. This was the British schooling system, so anyone who went through the British schooling system in the 60s and 70s will do this.

Don’t believe everything your 3rd grade grammar teacher taught you.

It should be quite obvious that spoken English leaves out all those ands until the last item. In verbal form, it is by voice inflection that one audibly cues a listener that one is ticking off the items of a list.

The inscription of the spoken English was codified only later (and even then, there are usage differences). When writing down a serial list commas were introduced, not to express the missing ands, for they were never there in the first place, but to make it easier to read a serial list by separating each of the elements of the list. In that way, the commas replace the audial cues.

And speaking of audial cues, when one verbally recites a serial list, there is usually the same type of verbal ‘stop’ that come before the final ‘and Z’ as inbetween each of the items. That is why I prefer the final comma before the ‘and.’

Peace, Props, and Pleasantries.