Dear John et al.,

Can the Latin abbreviation et al. be used at the end of the greeting in an email? It would look like this:

Dear John et al.,

Hello, Kimia et al.

A reader whom I will call Doug wrote to ask that question. What is your answer for Doug?

The expression et al., which is always followed by a period, stands for "and others." So the greetings above would mean:

Dear John and others,

Hello, Kimia and others.

Sorry, Doug. I am voting no–for several reasons:

  1. Many people do not know the meaning of et al., so using it will confuse readers. 
  2. Dear and hello are warm, positive words. Et al., the abbreviation of et alii, is about as friendly as a flu shot. They don't fit well together.
  3. The use of et al. is not standard in greetings, so people will stumble over it, wondering whether they missed an important new rule somewhere.
  4. Writers using the unusual greeting will worry about how to punctuate after it, and their readers will spend time questioning whatever punctuation choice the writers make. In fact, Doug wrote, "I do not use a comma or colon after the period in al. as I feel it looks awkward." My grammar and spelling checker seemsto think so too. Yet in the United States and Canada, we include punctuation after a greeting.

For those wondering about the rightful place of et al., it is in footnotes and citations. For example, in a bibliography, rather than listing five authors of a scientific paper, we can list the first author's name and then use et al. for the remaining four authors. Et al. always refers to people–not things.

Doug was suggesting the use of et al. to avoid greeting a list of people. He is wise to avoid a salutation like this:

Dear John, Joseph, Kayla, Nadia, and Robert,

A list like that makes readers wonder about the order of names. By coincidence, it is alphabetical, but is it hierarchical too? Is the director's name first? Last? 

Here are safer choices:

Dear John and team members,

Dear Chamber members,

Hello, Marketing team.

Greetings, everybody.

That is my view of et al. and greetings. Do you agree?

Lynn
Syntax Training

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. Although I’m not so sure about reason one, reason two is justification enough to avoid “et al.” in a greeting.

    In the list of safer choices, might I suggest “Greetings, everyone” rather than “Greetings, everybody”? It’s purely a matter of sound–three syllables instead of four; and a nice, round vowel in the last, instead of all those long e’s–but such small choices add up.

  2. Hi, Lester. I agree with you about “Greetings, everyone.” It sounds much better than my “Greetings, everybody.”

    Regarding the meaning of the Latin abbreviation, I will ask the next 10 or 20 people I talk with what it means. Watch for a future blog entry on the subject.

    Lynn

  3. One quibble about the proper use of et al. I’m pretty sure you do not want to use et al. in a bibliography or reference list. Those are the places where you want to spell everything out in detail. Instead, you use it in a footnote or in-text citation within the main text. This is how both the Chicago and APA style books have it. If you’re writing that type of document, check the specific style guide your organization is using to make sure about this.

    On the topic of the post itself, I totally agree. Et al. doesn’t belong in a greeting.

  4. Joseph, thanks for the quibble about the bibliography. It makes perfect sense. I am not in the same building with my reference books at the moment, so I will accept your comment as correct without having my bookshelf bless it.

    I appreciate the correction.

    Lynn

  5. My company’s writing stylebook bans all Latin abbreviations. People often don’t know what they mean, or they confuse meanings, thinking that e.g. means i.e., for example. And etc. is just a lazy way of writing. Besides, the English language offers many suitable substitutes.

  6. they confuse meanings, thinking that e.g. means i.e., for example. And etc. is just a lazy way of writing. Besides, the English language offers many suitable substitutes.

  7. I disagree with the first reason. I feel standards should never be determined based on the lowest levels of knowledge or understanding. In this instance the unfamiliarity of et al. should not be seen as a reason to abandon use.

    In consideration of etc., I do find this to be appropriate (not lazy) in many instances. For example, when sending a message it should be considered appropriate to list etc. when not all factors are yet known. If the sentence is “Please be prepared to discuss how your department can help support the organization’s efforts either by a, b, or c etc.” to list etc. indicates to the reader that the list of options is not limited to those mentioned and that other ideas are welcome during the discussion but are not yet realized.

  8. Hi, Jones. Thanks for your view.

    In business writing, I do my best to avoid using language that people do not understand. If they don’t understand it, they won’t understand my message, and communication is my goal.

    I agree that the abbreviation “etc.” can be useful to replace the phrase “and so on.” If it does not work as a replacement for “and so on,” I do not recommend using it.

    Of course, “etc.” and “and so on” do not fit in a greeting because they are too impersonal.

    Lynn

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