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What Does et al. Mean?

What is et al.? Can this Latin abbreviation be used at the end of the greeting in an e-mail?

Let’s answer these questions together.

What Does et al. Mean?

The expression et al., which is always followed by a period, stands for “and others.” So greetings with et al. would mean:

  • Dear John and others,
  • Hello, Kimia and others.

The answer to the question – “Can we use et al. at the end of a greeting in an email?” – is no. Here is why:

  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.

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. Many people do not use a comma or colon after the period in al. as I feel it looks awkward. Grammar and spelling checkers seems to think so, too. Yet in the United States and Canada, we include punctuation after a greeting.

Graphic illustrating the meaning and usage of et al. Et al., means "and others," and is typically used in footnotes or citations.

Origin of the Phrase

As mentioned earlier, it functions as an abbreviation, but what does it stand for?

In English, et al. stands for “and others,” but it traces back to a Latin root. the Latin “et alia” and “et alii” are two gendered versions of the same phrase which means “and others.” Some sources also cite “et aliae” to be another feminine version of the phrase.

Likewise, it can also be relatedly tracked to the Latin “et alibi,” which means “and elsewhere.”

How to Use it in Citations

You should use it particularly 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.

In addition to citations at the end of a paper, you can also use et al. with in-text citations to clean things up! 

Be careful when you are using et al. in citations though. Different style guides such as APA style or Chicago style may have different usage rules. 

For instance, most sources agree that you should fully write out names in the first citation you use, after which you can use et al. Additionally, most guides agree that you can simply use the name of the first author followed by “et al.” when you are making in-text citations.

Likewise, different guides will have different rules regarding when the number of authors warrants the use of et al. For instance, some say that you should use et al. when there are more than three authors, whereas others claim you should only use it when there are six or more! 

Using et al. in Emails

The desire to use it in an e-mail greeting stems from wanting to avoid greeting a list of people. Indeed, it 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.

Related: How To Address Multiple People In A Letter Or An Email

That is our view of et al. and greetings.

For more guidance on the abbreviation of Latin phrases in business writing, have a look at these articles: Everything About Etc., I.e. vs E.g. – Which Do You Choose?


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

10 comments on “What Does et al. Mean?”

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


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