When to Use a Comma with “Et Al.”
  • 3-minute read
  • 8th May 2022

When to Use a Comma with “Et Al.”

“Et al.” is an abbreviation that means “and others.” You might need to use it in academic writing when you cite sources with more than one author. Referencing styles vary on whether you need to include a comma with “et al.,” so in this post, we’ll explain when (and when not) to use one.

What Does “Et Al.” Mean?

“Et al.” is an abbreviation of the Latin term et alia, which translates to “and others.” It always has a period after it to indicate that it’s an abbreviation.

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr formed The Beatles in 1960.


John Lennon et al. formed The Beatles in 1960.

“Et al.” is only used to shorten lists of names. If you want to shorten a list of things, you should use “etc.” instead.

When Is “Et Al.” Used in Academic Referencing?

Each referencing system has its own rules about when to use “et al.” Here are the basics for the most common citation styles:

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●  APA and MLA use “et al.” for in-text citations of a source with three or more authors. The last name is cited and followed by “et al.,” like in this APA example:

“The Chain” (Nicks et al., 1977) was recorded at the Record Plant, California.

MLA uses the same rule for the works cited list, while for APA you would then list all the contributors’ names in the reference list or works cited page.

●  Chicago referencing uses “et al.” for in-text citations of sources with four or more authors. In a Chicago reference list or bibliography, you’d name every contributor if there were less than ten overall. However, if a source has ten or more authors, you need to list the first seven followed by “et al.”

●  IEEE uses “et al.” in the reference list for sources with seven or more authors. With IEEE, you’d only name the first author.

Should Commas be Used with “Et Al.?”

In most Academic referencing styles, “et al.” should be followed by a comma if it’s inside the parenthetical in-text citation, as shown in the last example. You don’t usually need a comma before “et al.” because the term is typically used after a single name. However, there are two situations where a comma before it is required:

  1. If you use “et al.” at the end of a list of three or more names, then you should place a serial (or Oxford) comma before it if you’re following a style guide that requires Oxford commas or if you’re writing for an American audience.
  1. In an MLA Works Cited Page, names are usually formatted with the surname first. When the first author’s name is reversed like this, you should place a comma before et al. to indicate that the position has been changed (e.g., “David, Craig, et al.”).

Expert Academic Proofreading

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Comments (4)
5th December 2022 at 17:26
I think your "Hey Jude" example isn't right. The parenthetical listing of name(s) following a song title typically denotes its composer(s). "Hey Jude" is credited to "McCartney-Lennon,"—two composers—and so doesn't qualify for the use of "el al.," it seems. Of course, if the context indicated the citing as one of song performers rather than composers, it would be okay. Thoughts?
    11th December 2022 at 15:50
    Hi, Dave. Yes, you’re right; we’ve used that in an example requiring three or more authors! Thanks for flagging and we’ll get that example updated.
27th April 2023 at 18:21
Your page indicates that MLA and APA are the same, but an MLA works cited entry uses "et al." It does not require all of the authors' names. MLA citations do not include a comma or a year, either.
    30th April 2023 at 14:12
    Thanks for checking this, Darcey. We’ll make sure that the point about the MLA works cited list is updated. As the example covers both APA and MLA citations, we’re using an APA style citation here, but we’ll make this clearer.

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