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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.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
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.
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1. I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.
2. England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
3. Be kind to your dentist. He has fillings, too.
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 Grammies, 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)
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.