Et Al. | Meaning & Use in APA, MLA & Chicago

“Et al.” is short for the Latin term “et alia,” which means “and others.” It is used in academic citations when referring to a source with multiple authors.

Example: Using “et al.”
Hulme et al. (2019) argue that …

Different citation styles have different rules for when to use “et al.” Below, we explain the rules for APA, MLA, and Chicago style.

Using et al. in APA Style

APA Style has slightly different rules for using “et al.” depending on whether you’re following the 6th or 7th edition.

7th edition rules

In APA 7 in-text citations, when a source has two authors, list both. When there are three or more authors, cite the first author followed by “et al.”

“Et al.” in APA 7
Number of authors In-text citation
1–2 authors (Anderson & Singh, 2018)
3+ authors (McDonnell et al., 2019)

Don’t use “et al.” in the reference list. Instead, list up to 20 authors in full. When a source has more than 20 authors, list the first 19, then an ellipsis (…), then the final name:

Example: APA reference entry with 21+ authors
McDonnell, F., Davidson, M., Singh, J., Clobus, R., Davies, R., Eliot, A., McCombes, S., Caulfield, J., Streefkerk, R., Corrieri, L., LaBrode, M., Theel, M., Swaen, B., Debret, J., Jonker, S., Driessen, K., Baldwin, I., Bevans, R., Bhandari, P., … Peters, H.

6th edition rules

The rules for APA 6 in-text citations are slightly different. For sources with three to five authors, list all the authors the first time, and use “et al.” only in subsequent citations. For sources with six or more authors, use “et al.” from the first citation.

“Et al.” in APA 6
Number of authors First citation Subsequent citations
3–5 authors (Smith, Sanchez, Davies, Baldwin, & Caulfield, 2016) (Smith et al., 2016)
6+ authors (McDonnell et al., 2016) (McDonnell et al., 2016)

Using et al. in MLA style

In MLA style, always use “et al.” for sources with three or more authors. This applies to both MLA in-text citations and the Works Cited list.

“Et al.” in MLA style
Number of authors In-text citation example Works cited example
1–2 authors (Smith and Davies) Smith, Joshua, and Robert Davies. …
3+ authors (McDonnell et al.) McDonnell, Frederick, et al. …

Note that in a narrative citation (where the author names are not in parentheses but are part of the main sentence), MLA states that you should not use “et al.” Instead use an English equivalent like “and colleagues.”

  • McDonnell et al. (37) argue that …
  • McDonnell and colleagues (37) argue that …

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Using et al. in Chicago style

Chicago style has two systems of citation: notes and bibliography, and author-date style. The use of “et al.” is the same in both styles.

For sources with one, two, or three authors,  list all author names in your in-text citations (whether footnotes or author-date). For sources with four or more authors, use the first name followed by “et al.”

“Et al.” in Chicago style
Number of authors Footnote example Author-date example
1–3 authors 1. Joshua Smith and Robert Davies,… (Smith and Davies 2019)
4+ authors 2. James Simpson et al., … Simpson et al., …

In your Chicago style reference list or bibliography, list up to 10 authors. If a source has more than 10 authors, list the first seven followed by “et al.”:

Example: Chicago bibliography entry with 11+ authors
McDonnell, Frederick, Molly Davidson, Jessica Singh, Ronald Clobus, Robert Davies, Anne Eliot, Harold Peters, et al.

Common mistakes

There are a few common mistakes to watch out for when using “et al.”

Plural vs. singular

Because a phrase ending in “et al.” refers to a group of people, you need to use a plural verb when the “et al.” phrase is the subject.

  • Smith et al. (2015) states that …
  • Smith et al. (2015) state that …

Punctuation

“Et al.” is written as two words, with the “al” always followed by a period. The period is to indicate that the term is an abbreviation.

  • et al
  • etal.
  • et. al
  • et. al.
  • et al.

“Et al.” may be directly followed by other punctuation where necessary, but the period always comes first:

Example: “Et al.” with other punctuation
(Smith et al., 2013)

When “et al.” comes right at the end of a sentence, only one period is used:

Example: “Et al.” at the end of a sentence
This is a time-intensive process, as shown by Davies et al.

When “et al.” comes after a list of two or more names, it’s preceded by a serial comma. When there’s only one name before it, no comma should be used.

  • Smith, et al.
  • Smith, Jones, et al.

“Et al.” vs. “etc.”

“Et al.” should not be confused with “etc.”; it is used for lists of people, whereas “etc.” is used for lists of things and concepts:

Example: “Et al.” vs. “etc.”
McDonnell et al. (2012) discuss various identity considerations (gendered, racial, etc.) that may bias the results.

Frequently asked questions about "et al."

What does “et al.” mean?

Et al.” is an abbreviation of the Latin term “et alia,” which means “and others.” It’s used in source citations to save space when there are too many authors to name them all.

Guidelines for using “et al.” differ depending on the citation style you’re following:

When should I use “et al.” in citations?

The abbreviationet al.” (Latin for “and others”) is used to shorten citations of sources with multiple authors.

“Et al.” is used in APA in-text citations of sources with 3+ authors, e.g. (Smith et al., 2019). It is not used in APA reference entries.

Use “et al.” for 3+ authors in MLA in-text citations and Works Cited entries.

Use “et al.” for 4+ authors in a Chicago in-text citation, and for 10+ authors in a Chicago bibliography entry.

When should I use “et al.” in APA in-text citations?

The abbreviation “et al.” (meaning “and others”) is used to shorten APA in-text citations with three or more authors. Here’s how it works:

Only include the first author’s last name, followed by “et al.”, a comma and the year of publication, for example (Taylor et al., 2018).

How do I cite a source with multiple authors in MLA?

If a source has two authors, name both authors in your MLA in-text citation and Works Cited entry. If there are three or more authors, name only the first author, followed by et al.

Number of authors In-text citation Works Cited entry
1 author (Moore 37) Moore, Jason W.
2 authors (Moore and Patel 37) Moore, Jason W., and Raj Patel.
3+ authors (Moore et al. 37) Moore, Jason W., et al.
How do I cite a source with multiple authors in Chicago style?

In a Chicago style footnote, list up to three authors. If there are more than three, name only the first author, followed by “et al.

In the bibliography, list up to 10 authors. If there are more than 10, list the first seven followed by “et al.”

Full note Short note Bibliography
2 authors Anna Burns and Robert Smith Burns and Smith Burns, Anna, and Robert Smith.
3 authors Anna Burns, Robert Smith, and Judith Green Burns, Smith, and Green Burns, Anna, Robert Smith, and Judith Green.
4+ authors Anna Burns et al. Burns et al. Burns, Anna, Robert Smith, Judith Green, and Maggie White.

The same rules apply in Chicago author-date style.

Is this article helpful?
Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

14 comments

Leila
June 12, 2022 at 11:23 PM

What means “ et al. 1 “ ? What means that number? “ et al. 129”

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
June 13, 2022 at 10:40 AM

Hi Leila,

It may be that you're looking at an MLA citation. In MLA, the author name is followed by the page number. So when et al. is used, that could look like (Smith et al. 129)

Reply

Baris
September 17, 2021 at 11:55 AM

Hi Jack,

What about in the case of co-authorship? I'm not sure about other disciplines but in biological science journals, an asterisk is used to indicate co-authorship. And we see in the footnote the following statement: *These authors contributed equally to this work. Is the sole purpose of et al. citations simplicity or giving credit fairly? In relation to this, what would be the citation for an article that has been written by two co-authors who have contributed equally?

Thanks in advance!

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
September 21, 2021 at 1:42 PM

Hi Baris,

This is a tricky issue that style guides don't tend to get into. The purpose of using "et al." is not to highlight anyone's contribution as more important than that of the other authors, but simply to save space in your citations. The name of the first author listed is used just for the sake of convenience, and it's down to the publisher and authors, not the person citing the source, to determine the order in which authors are listed. But of course, it's not unreasonable to think the author who is directly named is receiving more direct credit for their work than those who are not named.

Nevertheless, there's no coverage of exceptions to the rule of using "et al." in APA, MLA, or Chicago, so it's reasonable to assume they would advise just using "et al." even in a case like the one you describe.

Reply

Mehdi
May 28, 2021 at 9:49 AM

Hi,
Which one is correct ?
In Smith et al.'s study.
In Smith et al.s' study.

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
May 31, 2021 at 3:30 PM

Hi Mehdi,

Usually it's best to avoid this kind of phrasing, e.g. by changing it to "In a study by Smith et al." or "Smith et al. (2015) found that . . .". However, where this is not possible, the correct option is "Smith et al.'s study."

Reply

Dawn Gordon
May 27, 2021 at 1:24 AM

I wanted to find out if Et al. can be used in addressing persons when sending an email, instead of referencing all names in salutation.

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
May 31, 2021 at 3:39 PM

Hi Dawn,

It's usually best to avoid this usage of et al., as it may be considered rude (especially as it involves naming one of your addressees but not others). If it's too unwieldy to list all names, an appropriate general term should be used, e.g. "Dear colleagues" or similar.

Reply

John
September 15, 2021 at 1:28 AM

Jack,
My question is similar, yet different, from Dawn's, so I thought I'd tag along on this string:
Is it inappropriate, offensive, etc. greet email recipients with "Ladies, Gentlemen, Et al., ..."?

I understand & agree that naming some and not others is offensive.
However, I lead a staff of professionals with a sprinkling of diversity, and would like to counter the minority that are not so accepting. So, I would like to promote an inclusive environment in little ways.

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
September 21, 2021 at 1:31 PM

Hi John,

I don't personally see anything offensive about that phrasing (though of course I can't account for how others would react to it!). I wouldn't capitalize "et al." though; it's a phrase rather than a name.

Reply

Carlos D. Martinez Sanchez
May 1, 2021 at 9:31 AM

Hello Jack,

I've got a question regarding whether or not this applies to translators as well. Take this for example, I want to cite "Mexican Masks" by Octavio Paz. He, alone, is the author for this essay. However, I read the translated version by Lysander Kemp, Yara Milos, and Rachel Phillips. I was wondering if I could list Lysander Kemp as a translator and then add "et al." as follows: Paz, Octavio. "Mexican Masks." The Labyrinth of Solitude. Translated by Lysander Kemp et al. Grove Press Inc, 1985.

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
May 3, 2021 at 4:59 PM

Hi Carlos,

Yep, indeed you can use et al. for multiple translators just as you would for multiple authors. Note that you'd need a comma after "et al." though, as there would usually be a comma there for this format: Lysander Kemp et al., Grove …

Reply

Bonginkosi
April 9, 2021 at 5:01 PM

Question

When my sources have different publication dates. Which date do I use with et al.?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 16, 2021 at 3:13 PM

Hi Bonginkosi,

I'm not sure I understand your question. You should cite each source separately, not combine different sources into one citation. You use et al. when a single source has multiple authors, not to combine the authors of different sources. So this issue shouldn't come up.

Hope that helps; let me know if I've misunderstood what you were asking!

Reply

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