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How to Use et al. in an Academic Paper

Written by Scribendi

Learn how to use et al. properly 

Are you feeling clueless about how to use et al. in your academic paper?

No need to fear. This handy guide will have you citing like a pro in no time.

What is the meaning of et al.?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, it helps to first understand the literal meaning of the phrase. That way, you'll know exactly what you're saying when you use the term.

The phrase "et al." is derived from the Latin phrase et alia, meaning and others. The most common way you'll see et al. used in academic papers is in references, both for in-text citations and in the reference list.

For example, you might see the phrase, "Horowitz et al. (2012) published ground-breaking research," which means that Horowitz and others published the research.

Where should I put the period?

One important thing to remember is that, noTotally Buggin' matter what, "et" is never followed by a period. Only "al" is followed by a period. That means that "et al." is the only proper spelling of the phrase.

Should I italicize et al.?

Another key thing to note is that most major style guides (including APA, MLA, the Chicago Manual of Style, and Harvard) do not require et al. to be italicized. However, some field-specific publications require the italicization of the phrase, so it's always a good thing to double-check.

Using et al. appropriately varies between style guides. Check out the different style guides below to make sure you're using this elusive phrase correctly.

When to use et al. (examples included)

Below, we provide examples of when and how to use et al. for each major style guide.

APA format

A work by three to five authors

When dealing with a work by three to five authors in APA format, use the first author's last name in the signal phrase or parentheses, followed by et al. For example:

  • Lucas et al. (1995) explores...
  • (Lucas et al., 1995)

A work by six or more authors

In keeping with the above, if there are six or more authors in the citation, use only the first author's last name, followed by et al. For example:

  • Mariens et al. (1995) argued...
  • (Mariens et al., 1995)

MLA format

A work by more than three authors

Similarly, MLA uses et al. when citing a work by more than three authors. Again, you should provide the first author's last name, followed by et al. Here's an example:

  • Students counter Hall, Geist, and Stoeger's complaints of tardiness by noting that tardiness is a community contribution and not the efforts of one individual alone (Birkenstock et al. 4).

The Chicago Manual of Style

A work by four or more authorsConfused by et al.? As if!

The Chicago Manual of Style varies slightly in terms of formatting. This is because Chicago allows for the use of either footnotes or in-text citations. Think that excuses you from using et al. correctly? As if!

Remember that Chicago style always uses et al. when referring to four or more authors, just as we have previously seen in APA style.


  • On first use: Murray Duvall et al., Woman, Why Don't You Be Answerin' Any of My Pages . . .
  • On subsequent uses: Duvall et al., Woman . . .

In-text citations:

  • (Duvall et al. 1995)

In the bibliography, list all the authors, regardless of how many there are.

Harvard referencing style

A work by more than three authors

Again, with more than three authors, write the last name of the first author followed by et al. every time you cite the source. One again, use the first author's last name only. Then, write et al. in parentheses or using a signal phrase:

  • (Tiscia et al. 1995)
  • Tiscia et al. (1995)

Please note that Harvard style can vary between schools, and this includes the use of et al. Be sure to refer to your preferred or required style guide for updated information or any kind of variation between institutions.


There! We've now covered how and when to use et al. in all of the major style guides. You'll be clueless no longer!

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