How and when to use et al.

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

Hulme et al. (2019) argue that …

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

Common mistakes

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

Punctuation

The “al” in “et al.” is always followed by a period. This is because the term is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “et alia” – the period indicates that it is an abbreviation:

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

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

(Smith et al., 2013)

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

This is a time-intensive process, as shown by Davies 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:

McDonnell et al. (2012) discuss various identity considerations (gendered, racial, etc.) which may bias the results.

Using et al. in APA style

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

When a source has three, four, or five authors, list all authors the first time the source is cited. In all subsequent citations, give only the first author followed by “et al.”

Et al. in APA 6
Number of authorsFirst citationSubsequent citations
1–2 authors(Anderson & Singh, 2018)(Anderson & Singh, 2018)
3–5 authors(Smith, Sanchez, Davies, Baldwin, & Caulfield, 2016)(Smith et al., 2016)
6+ authors(McDonnell et al., 2019)(McDonnell et al., 2019)

APA does not recommend using “et al.” in the reference list. Instead, list up to seven authors in full. When a source has more than seven authors, list the first six, then an ellipsis (…), then the final name:

McDonnell, F., Davidson, M., Singh, J., Clobus, R., Davies, R., Eliot, A., … Peters, H.

APA 7th edition updates

The rules above apply to the 6th edition of the APA manual. In the 7th (most recent) edition, the rules have been simplified: “et al.” is used for works with three or more authors from the first in-text citation.

Et al. in APA 7
Number of authorsIn-text citation
1–2 authors(Anderson & Singh, 2018)
3+(Smith et al., 2016)

Additionally, in APA 7, up to 20 authors are named in the reference list entry.

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Using et al. in MLA style

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

Number of authorsIn-text citation exampleWorks cited example
1–2 authors(Smith and Davies)Smith, Joshua, and Robert Davies. …
3+ authors(McDonnell et al.)McDonnell, Frederick, et al. …

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.”

Number of authorsFootnote exampleAuthor-date example
1–3 authors1. Joshua Smith and Robert Davies,…(Smith and Davies 2019)
3+ authors2. 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.”:

McDonnell, Frederick, Molly Davidson, Jessica Singh, Ronald Clobus, Robert Davies, Anne Eliot, Harold Peters, et al. …
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Jack Caulfield

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

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