10 Abbreviations and symbols

10.6 e.g., i.e., etc., et al.

Do not confuse ‘e.g.’ (from Latin exempli gratia), meaning ‘for example’, with ‘i.e.’ (Latin id est), meaning ‘that is’. Compare

hand tools, e.g. hammer and screwdriver
hand tools, i.e. those able to be held in the user’s hands

Although many people employ ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ quite naturally in speech as well as writing, prefer ‘for example’, ‘such as’ (or, more informally, ‘like’), and ‘that is’ in running text. Conversely, adopt ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ within parentheses or notes, since abbreviations are preferred there.

A sentence in text cannot begin with ‘e.g.’ or ‘i.e.’; however, a note can, in which case they remain lower case.

Take care to distinguish ‘i.e.’ from the rarer ‘viz.’ (Latin videlicet, ‘namely’). Formerly some writers used ‘i.e.’ to supply a definition or paraphrase, and ‘viz.’ to introduce a list of items. However, it is Oxford’s preference either to replace ‘viz.’ with ‘namely’ or to prefer ‘i.e.’ in every case.

Write ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ in lower-case roman, with two points and no spaces. In Oxford’s style they are not followed by commas, to avoid double punctuation; commas are often used in US practice. A comma, colon, or dash should precede ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ A comma is generally used when there is no verb in the following phrase:

different fruits, e.g. apples, oranges, bananas, and cherries
part of a printed document, e.g. a book cover

Use a colon or dash before a clause or a long list:

digital cameras have the advantage of being solid-state devices— i.e. they don’t have moving parts

In full ‘etc.’ is et cetera, a Latin phrase meaning ‘and other things’. ‘Et al.’ is short for Latin et alii, ‘and others’. In general contexts both are lower-case roman, with a full point, though ‘et al.’ is sometimes italicized in bibliographic use. Do not use ‘&c.’ for ‘etc.’ except when duplicating historical typography. ‘Etc.’ is preceded by a comma if it follows more than one listed item: robins, sparrows, etc.; it is best to avoid using ‘etc.’ after only one item (robins etc.), as at least two examples are necessary to establish the relationship between the elements and show how the list might go on. The full point can be followed by a comma or whatever other punctuation would be required after an equivalent phrase such as and the like— but not by a second full point, to avoid double punctuation.

Use ‘etc.’ in technical or scholarly contexts such as notes and works of reference. Elsewhere, prefer such as, like, or for example before a list, or and so on, and the like after it; none of these can be used in combination with ‘etc.’ It is considered rude to use ‘etc.’ when listing individual people; use ‘and others’ instead; use ‘etc.’ when listing types of people, however. In a technical context, such as a bibliography, use ‘et al.’:

Daisy, Katie, Alexander, and others
duke, marquess, earl, etc.
Smith, Jones, Brown, et al.

Do not write ‘and etc.’: ‘etc.’ includes the meaning of ‘and’. Do not end a list with ‘etc.’ if it begins with ‘e.g.’, ‘including’, ‘for example’, or ‘such as’, since these indicate that the list is to be incomplete. Choose one or the other, not both.

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove ads and access premium resources

New Hart's Rules


Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms