All About etc.

The abbreviation etc. is from the Latin et cetera, which means “and other things.” It appears at the end of a list when there is no point in giving more examples. Writers use it to say, “And so on” or “I could go on” or “You get the idea.”

In American English, etc. ends in a period, even midsentence. It is traditionally enclosed in commas when it doesn’t end a sentence, but nowadays the comma that follows etc. is disappearing. The 1979 edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style insists that etc. be followed by a comma: Letters, packages, etc., should go here. But Bryan A. Garner’s 1998 edition of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage advises against a following comma, saying it is “more logical” to omit it: Carrots, potatoes, broccoli, etc. have the advantage of being vegetables. Garner’s point is that if we replaced etc. with something like and celery we would not follow celery with a comma.

All authorities agree that etc. is out of place in formal writing. The Chicago Manual of Style says that etc. “should be avoided, though it is usually acceptable in lists and tables, in notes, and within parentheses.” John B. Bremner’s Words on Words says, “Use it informally, if you really must.” Theodore M. Bernstein’s The Careful Writer says the term “has no place in writing that has any literary pretensions.”

Do not use etc. with a “list” that gives only one example; there should be at least two items listed. And never use etc. at the end of a series that begins with for example, e.g., including, such as, and the like, because these terms make etc. redundant: they already imply that the writer could offer other examples.

Every so often you’ll see and etc. But et means “and,” so and etc. would mean “and and so on.” Also to be avoided is etc., etc., because why do that, why do that?

Since cetera means “other things,” etc. should not be used when listing persons. For that, we have et al. (note the period), from the Latin et alii, meaning “and other people”: The Romantic poets Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, et al., strove to capture man’s mystic relationship with nature.

All the rules for etc. apply to et al., including its unsuitability for serious writing.


Pop Quiz

Fix what needs fixing. Answers are below.

1. The collection includes precious gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, etc.

2. All our favorite characters, Jimmy, Slick Sam, Annie from Miami, etc., were at the party.

3. People love to watch the award shows (the Academy Awards, etc.) and try to guess who will win.

4. Many regard fine literature—novels, essays, poetry, etc—as essential to a useful life.


Pop Quiz Answers

1. The collection includes precious gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. OR The collection includes precious gemstones: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, etc. (Never use etc. at the end of a list introduced by such as)

2. All our favorite characters, Jimmy, Slick Sam, Annie from Miami, et al., were at the party. (Do not use etc. to refer to humans)

3. People love to watch the award shows (the Academy Awards, the Grammys, etc.) and try to guess who will win. (Do not use etc. after only one example)

4. Many regard fine literature—novels, essays, poetry, etc.—as essential to a useful life. (In American English, do not use etc. without a period)

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014, at 1:53 pm

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16 Comments on All About etc.

16 responses to “All About etc.

  1. Barbara J. says:

    Why is “About” capitalized in your title?

    • Policies do vary regarding which words to capitalize in a title. Rule 16a. of Capitalization in our book and online contains this paragraph:

      The major bone of contention is prepositions. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends capitalizing all prepositions of more than three letters (e.g., With, About, Across). Others advise lowercase until a preposition reaches five or more letters. Still others say not to capitalize any preposition, even big words like regarding or underneath.

  2. Matt S. says:

    I’m all for treating “etc.” like any other item in a list and not including a comma afterward in the middle of a sentence, but how, then, will anyone know where a sentence ends when a list ending with “etc.” is followed by a proper noun. This any many other scenarios where a period, exclamation point, or question mark exist within the sentence are the good reason sentences used to be separated by TWO spaces. For the sake of having standards we can count on, please reinstate the double-space.

    • There are a number of rules and practices that we would like to have control over. Unfortunately, we don’t make the rules, we just report what the leading reference books and experts have to say on the subjects.

  3. Dennis T. says:

    “Also to be avoided is etc., etc., because why do that, why do that?”

    I believe W.C. Fields used the phrase, “et cetera, et cetera…” as an ending to some of his quips, as though running out of air, so it has a past; more of a colloquialism than a formal way of writing or speaking.

    • W.C. Fields was a brilliant comic actor. We certainly wouldn’t attempt to change any of his lines for the sake of “good” grammar. We should also mention Yul Brynner in The King and I, who got big laughs with “et cetera, et cetera” spoken regally.

  4. Bob Castaldi says:

    I was informed when using etc. at the end of a sentence that it should be followed by two periods…. blah, blah, blah, etc.. One for etc. and one to indicate the sentence has ended. Is this correct?

  5. Ryan says:

    Suppose you wanted students to write sentences. You provide them with two complete example sentences and want to put etc. at the end. Would you end the second sentence with a comma and include the etc. there or put a period and then the etc.?

    • We do not understand what you have in mind. Can you show us what you mean?

      • Ryan says:

        Teacher: What’s in your room?
        Student: A bed and a desk. etc.

        *You want students to write complete sentences such as these.

        • The student’s response is not a complete sentence. It does not contain a verb. A comma goes before etc.
          Student: I have a bed, a desk, etc.

          • Ryan says:

            Fair enough. However, the question still stands. The teacher wants the students to have conversations making sentences. By having the sentence: I have a bed, a desk, etc., the etc. continues other items in the room, whereas the intention is to create sentences.

            Teacher: What’s in your room?
            Student: I have a bed and a desk. etc.

            *How would we punctuate it here when we want full sentences?

          • We think that you are asking the word etc. to do too much work. You confused us, and it would likely confuse the students. We recommend more specific directions, including how long you want this exercise to go on:

            In this exercise, create a conversation using complete sentences. For example:

            Teacher: What’s in your room?
            Student: I have a bed and a desk.
            Teacher: (sentence here)
            Student: (sentence here)

            Continue the conversation until our time is up OR until you have written eight sentences OR …

  6. David S says:

    It isn’t “Grammies.” Although it doesn’t seem correct, it’s “The Grammys.”
    The Grammies sounds like an awards show for favorite grandmothers.

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