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Comma before “etc.” — The Ultimate Guide

Comma before “etc.” — The Ultimate Guide

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The hustles and bustles of everyday life are demanding enough to make us ignore some of the littlest things that actually matter.

I’m referring to the speck-of-dust symbols in the world of writing, the commas.

Let’s try to have a grasp of its appropriate usage before another minute sentence element, the Latin abbreviation “etc.”


Should we always place a comma before “etc.?”

The grammatical conventions suggest placing a comma before “etc.” when it appears in the formal text that strictly adheres to a closed punctuation system, such as in academic and legal writing. However, the pre-comma is omissible when standing by less rigid guidelines like the serial comma usage in British English, especially in casual texts. Lastly, the pre-comma only becomes incorrect when non-serially using “etc.” as a noun.


Et cetera in ample detail

No matter what we do, we do get confronted by the perplexing intricacies of writing every once in a while.

Both native and non-native users of English have a sentiment or two against the nuances behind writing such as the abbreviation and punctuation systems.

However, these kinds of issues are caused by the arbitrary yet, at the same time, also systematic nature of the human language.

The presence of such linguistic subtleties together with human inquisitiveness particularly sets us apart from non-human animals.

This simply implies that inquiries related to these linguistic nuances are natural and inevitable phenomena.

So now, let’s try to break some of the barriers by understanding the details behind the abbreviation “etc.” first.


The usage of “etc.”

The abbreviation “etc.” stands for the Latin phrase et cetera that roughly translates to “and the rest” or “and other things” in English.

“Et” stands for the word “and,” while “cetera” translates to “the rest” or “other things.”

This abbreviation is used to indicate similar entities that belong to usually a series of others previously mentioned or implied things in the sentence.

But, as the meaning “other things” suggest, “etc.” should be used when indicating objects rather than people or places.

Although “etc.” is the most commonly used abbreviation at present, other variations are also used by some authors like “&c.” and “et cet.”

However, comparatively speaking, “etc.” was more popularly used in the early twentieth century than at present.

“Etc.” is particularly used with objects, as suggested by the translation “and other related things.”

Therefore, we have to use the other Latin abbreviation “et al.” which stands for “et alia” when referring to humans.

Albeit less likely occurring than the other two mentioned abbreviations, “et alibi,” which means “and elsewhere,” may be used to refer to places.

We may use “etc.” when listing a penultimate series of activities such as in the example below.

Sorry, but I can’t join you right now because I still have to do the groceries, the dishes, the laundry, etc.

We may also use it to list down objects such as tools or instruments.

That guy can play the electric bass, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo, etc., but he says he can’t sing at all.

But, it is crucial to know that using “etc.” together after introducing a series of items with particularizers like “for example” or “such as” is considered superfluous.

This because the particularizers already serve the same purpose as “etc.”

Superfluous: She bought some used stuff from the flea market, for example, books, cutlery, wall decors, etc.

More importantly, we should not use “and” before “etc.” or “et cetera” because “et” already stands for the mentioned coordinating conjunction.

Incorrect: Every summer, my cousins and I go kayaking, canoeing, camping, and etc.

Again, using “etc.” is done to convey the idea that listing further is unnecessary since the reader can already understand the implied message.


Placing the necessary comma before “etc.”

Firstly, the general rule to remember is that using “etc.” is not encouraged in the formal writing context.

This is because the use of abbreviations reduces textual readability, which, in turn, limits the coverage of the audience that can understand the text.

However, an exception to the rule applies when there is a dire necessity of using abbreviations.

For example, both the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (APA) only allow abbreviations within parenthetical marks.

Hence, in the narrative or the running text, the complete Latin translation should be written instead.

Now, let’s see what conditions guide the pre-comma usage to “etc.”


When using “etc.” as a parenthetical material

As mentioned, formal writing style guides such as the CMOS and the APA encourage writing abbreviations only within parentheses.

When this happens, a comma is necessary before “etc.” or right after the last element on the representative list.

The participants’ basic demographics (gender, age, citizenship, etc.) were collected electronically.

Additionally, it is not advisable to introduce the list with “e.g.” and end it with “etc.” because of its superfluous denotation.

However, we may still see this kind of sentential structure in academic texts quite often, which means that this particular rule is still not fully implemented in academic writing.

Besides, it also implies that this particular guideline is being paid less attention than the others such as in writing citations and references. 


When “etc.” follows a mid-sentence series of items 

As the placement of the Oxford or comma is becoming more widely recognized as a default rule, the same is true when dealing with a mid-sentence “etc.”

A more standardized rule generally prevents misunderstanding and misinformation when we get confronted by other related cases.

As suggested by writing style authorities, a comma is necessary before “etc.” when it appears mid-sentence introducing the idea of more extensive examples.

She always looks forward to the blooming of hyacinth, daffodil, tulip, primrose, forsythia, etc. in spring.

In the example above, the pre-comma clarifies that the writer still aims to list down more examples, but since the point has been made, chooses not to extend the list further.


When “etc.” ends the sentence

Similarly, when the sentence does not need further details and the writer also wants to stop the sentence at “etc.,” a pre-comma is also necessary.

Apparently, a comma after it will create ungrammaticality as there are no more details to be expected.

More importantly, please note that this kind of sentence construction combines the function of the abbreviation and the declarative sentence’s period.

So, we must not put two periods or full stops in sentences similar to the next example.

Hayley is fond of marine animals. She loves seeing dolphins, seals, whale sharks, sea otters, etc.

The main point of this section is that a comma is always necessary before “etc.” wherever it appears in the sentence, no matter whether in the running text or within parenthetical marks.


Placing the optional comma before “etc.”

Now that we’ve known the necessary comma placement guidelines, the optional pre-comma placement is also worth looking at for clarity purposes.

Although this section recognizes the existence of this sentential pattern, please bear in mind that this writing style is generally not encouraged.


When there is only one item preceding “etc.”

There are times when translating thoughts into the exact equivalent words is not in the option for some reason.

One observable effect of this is when we fail to recall or include other examples, leading to the inclusion of only one item instead of a series.

This is acceptable in casual texts that do not necessarily affect the final output of the writer, just like when we are exchanging messages with friends.

In technical writing, though, this kind of sentence construction could easily gain attention from authorities, and therefore, should be avoided.

Observe the following sentence.

Dan loves extreme activities like bungee jumping(,) etc.

The sentence above is perfectly grammatical and would not lead to misinterpretation.

But, it might give an impression that the writer of the message might be a bit pretentious.

Or,  perhaps the writer simply wants to avoid including other examples to save time and energy.

Therefore, the comma before “etc.” may be conveniently omitted in such cases in which the serial list is incomplete.


Don’t place a comma before “etc.” when…

Lastly, we can take a look at the condition that accounts for an incorrect comma usage before “etc.” to be able to clean up the nooks and crannies of this topic.


When “etc.” is used as a noun

The comma before “etc.” only becomes incorrect when it functions as a noun in the sentence, similar to how it has been repeatedly used throughout this post.

This condition is true and valid when using “etc.” as the subject or the object in the sentence, so long that it is not serially listed.

A pre-comma before etc. is almost always necessary.

Of course, using other stylistic enhancements like bolding, italicizing, or enclosing it in quotation marks are wiser options.

But in case these tricks are not in the cards, then the writer’s grammatical discretion should be of utmost importance.


Frequently Asked Questions on Comma Before “Etc.”


Can we use “etc.” at the end of a sentence?

Yes, “etc.” may be used to end the sentence. However, it is essential to know that there should only be a single period to be used when this happens.


Is there a comma before “etc.” in British English?

British English generally asserts that the Oxford comma is rather optional than required. And since it is more lenient to punctuation usage, a comma may be conveniently omitted before “etc.” when adhering to British English guidelines. 


Should there be a comma between “and” and “etc.” in “and etc.?”

Using “and” and “etc.” consecutively demonstrates lexical redundancy because the first word of the latter’s Latin translation “et” already means “and” in English. Since this is the case, the comma before “and” and “etc.” will only be correct if “and” is included in the list as in: The coordinating conjunctions for, but, or, and, etc. are used to link two independent clauses.



“Etc.” or et cetera is one of the heirlooms of the Latin language that we are still conveniently using in the modern times.

On that note, understanding its original meaning and purpose should guide us in our writing decisions.