Skip to Content

“Et al.’s” vs. “et al.” — Here’s the Difference

“Et al.’s” vs. “et al.”  — Here’s the Difference

Sharing is caring!

It is quite an understatement to say that many writers grapple and scuffle with punctuation and abbreviation systems like clockwork-

And by extension, these two grammatical writing systems may have to be interwoven at times, thereby making matters more ill-fated than they already are.

But if we bear in mind that we, humans, are hyper-creative enough to be able to think of a solution to every problem, then we are in good hands, to say the least.

Today, we’ll focus on breaking the barriers between the abbreviated Latin phrases “et al.’s” and “et al.” of which the difference is paradoxically trivial and critical at the same time.

Let’s hit the road right away.


Is there any difference between the meaning of “et al.’s” and “et al.”?

In terms of semantics or word meaning, both phrases refer to the same Latin expression “et alia,” which translates to “and others” in English. In particular, “Smith et al.’s study” translates to “Smith and others’ study,” while “Smith et al. studied” translates to “Smith and others studied.”


How is “et al.’s” grammatically different from “et al.”?

“Et al.’s” is different from “et al.” because the first phrase represents the possessive noun form in English, which is also known as the genitive case in grammar studies. The second phrase “et al.” does not contain possessive markers, that is, the apostrophe and the suffix “-s.”


Understanding and using “et al.’s” vs. “et al.” in utmost detail

Problems on linguistic elements continue to bother a lot of people at present, such as the grammatical nuances in “sent me” vs. “sent to me” and “et al.’s” vs. “et al.”

“Et al.” is an abbreviated phrase that has been carried over to modern times despite the death of the Latin language, which can be explained using a functional or practical approach.

Being two letters shorter than its complete version “et alia”, “et al.” is such a handy phrase that does a superb job in shortening a lengthy list of people’s names.

On top of that, “et al.” is quite a tongue-friendly phrase in the sense that is obviously a syllable shorter when compared to its English translation “and others”or better yet, “and colleagues” in the context of academic writing.

Logic would tell us that the word “others” denotes more than one person or entity because it is particularly constructed with the suffix “-s” at the end, which is used as a plural marker.

Hence, you’d be able to reckon that “et al.” has to be used when referring to several other people every time it appears after a person’s name, which is often the primary author of a scholarly article.

Did I just say “person’s name”? I hope you still remember from your past lessons that people’s names are grammatically called


Understanding and using “et al.’s”

Semantically, “et al.’s” simply translates to the possessive form of the phrase “and others” in English, which is used when you want to say, for example, “Smith et al.’s (1968) study on the primordial soup…”

“Smith et al.’s (1968) study on the primordial soup…” can be rephrased and is simply equivalent to “The study of Smith et al. (1968) on primordial soup…”

Thus, “et al.’s” is semantically similar to “et al.”; however, there are morphological and syntactical differences that apply to both expressions. 

In the phrase “et al.’s,” the little punctuation mark you see right after the period that hangs above and before the letter “s” in “al.’s” is called an “apostrophe.”

“Apostrophe” is pronounced as “uh-paa-struh-fee” in American English and “uh-po-struh-fee” in British English, with only a slight difference in the vowel sound that comes after the first letter “p.”

Sometimes called a “diacritical marker,” an apostrophe is a punctuation mark that can be used when contracting verbs (“is not” to “isn’t”) or expressing plurals of individual characters (more than one “s” to “s’s”).

Besides these two functions, the apostrophe can be specifically used to represent the possessive case of nouns in English, at least in the context of today’s discussion on the phrase “et al.’s.”

When you hear the term “possessive,” simply think of something owned by your parents that you probably got or used without their permission, such as “mom’s car keys” or “dad’s car.” 

To have a clearer grasp of what I’m talking about, please look at the next example sentences below to see how possessive noun phrases work together with other sentence elements.


Nothing is more amazing in this world than a mother’s love.

In the example above, the possessive noun phrase is “a mother’s love” which can be expressed more formally at length as “a love of a mother.”

And, here’s one more example:


Martin’s hair has been dyed blue.

 As you may figure, the possessive noun phrase in the sentence above is “Martin’s hair” which intra-translates to “the hair of Martin.”

More technically speaking, what we have here is something called the “genitive case” in grammatical studies, which serves its purpose by signaling readers that the noun “owns” something.

For example, when you say “mother’s love” or “Martin’s hair,” the apostrophe and the suffix “-s” inform you that the second words “belong to” or “are owned by” the first words.

Now, we can use the series of arguments and explanations above to make sense of the phrase “et al.’s” which, again, translates to “and others.”

Although “et al.” or “and others” is not necessarily a noun phrase, the second word “al.” or “others” is actually a pronoun, which can still be marked possessively.

The pronoun “others” or “al.” in Latin is the entity where the possessive markers “apostrophe and ‘s’” should be attached to if and when another “possessed nominal element” comes afterward.

To put it simply, you can use “et al.’s” in denoting meaning that is similar to the following example, in which “the study belongs to the authors mentioned.”


This year, Radcliffe et al.’s study on aerial darting has been recognized and awarded by the Ig Nobel committee.

If you are still confused with “et al.’s” practical use, here’s the complete list of the thirteen authors who conducted the study on aerial darting in the example above.

List of authors:

Robin W. Radcliffe, Mark Jago, Peter vdB Morkel, Estelle Morkel, Pierre du Preez, Piet Beytell, Birgit Kotting, Bakker Manuel, Jan Hendrik du Preez, Michele A. Miller, Julia Felippe, Stephen A. Parry, Robin D. Gleed

If not for the existence of the phrase “et al.’s,” you would have to write all the above-mentioned names every single time you wish to cite their work appropriately.

Take note that no period should come after “et,” because “et” is already a complete word in itself that translates to “and” in English; the period must be placed after the letter “l” in “al.” instead, which is the abbreviated form of “alia.”

Apart from apostrophes, commas are tricky punctuation marks that regularly go with Latin abbreviations, so you may also want to check how to use a comma after abbreviations for more comprehensive learning.

Some other popular Latin abbreviations in the academic context include:

  • q.v. (Latin: quod vide): This abbreviation is used to direct the reader to another part of the text or to another work for further information.
  • cf. (Latin: confer): The abbreviation “cf.” stands for the Latin phrase “confer,” which translates to “compare” in English
  • e.g. (Latin: exempli gratia)
  • etc. (Latin: et cetera)


Understanding and using “et al.”

“Et al.” is different from “et al.’s” in the sense that it does not denote the possessive or genitive case in the English language.

It is merely a phrasal representation that other people, apart from the first person that appears in the text, made a particular study happen.

Since the possessive noun form is not shown anymore, some grammatical pointers need to be critically remembered.

That is, as “et al.” translates to “and others” in English, it thereby suggests the presence of more than one entity apart from the first author’s name that appears in the citation.

Hence, we must bear in mind that “et al.” marks the plural form of the subject (whenever it appears in this sentence position) even if you would only see a single name before it.

Therefore, the verb must also agree with the plural in case you have to write your sentence in the simple present tense.


Schötz et al. (2016) assert that cats semi-consciously use distinct prosodic patterns such as intonation, intensity, and voice length for communication purposes.

In the seventh and latest edition of the largest academic writing style manual produced by the American Psychological Association or APA, a specific rule on the use of “et al.” is presented.

That is, works with three or more authors have to be mentioned using the first author’s name that appears in the manuscript only followed by “et al.”

The use of the possessive form “et al.’s” is generally avoided in writing academic research papers or scholarly articles.

So, let’s try to find out more about this issue in the next section.


The use of “et al.’s” in academic papers

The use of the possessive form “et al.’s” is generally frowned upon, and thus avoided, by people who write academic papers or scholarly texts.

This is because it is associated with casual language use, thereby easily creating an impression of “negligent” or “lazy” writing, which is apparently not advisable in the context of formal writing.

On top of denoting the idea of possession, the use of the possessive noun form is also used to shorten relatively lengthier phrases, such as the one below.


“The lion’s den” is equivalent to “the den of the lion.”

As you can see, “the lion’s den” contains only four syllables and eleven letters plus one punctuation mark, while “the den of the lion” has six syllables and fifteen letters.

Hence, it is best to avoid using “et al.’s” in the context of writing formal texts because there is a more professional and formal way of representing such an expression.

In particular, the APA suggests using abbreviations sparingly, except for those that are crucial in citing sources such as “et al.” obviously enough.

Per APA, writing in-text citations like “Parker et al.’s (2016)” is acceptable, and a quick search on online browsers would also tell you that it is commonly used in books and periodicals.

However, this manner of writing is often avoided by authors as it is, one, not visually attractive and, two, it looks unprofessional or informal. 

It looks casual because it promotes the perception of negligence for formal writing mechanics. Or, in simpler terms, it may invite the impression that the author has a “lazy-writing habit.”


Possible but avoided ways when forming possessive noun forms in formal writing

There are two ways in which possessives are used by writers in published academic texts, and the first one is by attaching the possessive marker to the author’s name.

Example 1:

Halliday’s et al. (1987) study

The second way is the one being explained in our post today, which is “et al.’s.”

Example 2:

Halliday et al.’s (1987) study

Both representations are widely used in published and unpublished academic papers because these writing nuances do not necessarily evoke misinterpretation among readers.

However, it is much better to avoid these types of construction as much as you can to be able to improve the quality of your academic texts.


Better constructions that can be used instead of “et al.’s”

Paraphrasing is a skill that is vital when you are writing in the academic setting. Having this skill should save tons of time when you’re writing your thesis and dissertation papers.

So, here are other ways that you can employ instead of the possessive case:

Example 1:

Pavlova et al. (2020) explored the…

Example 2:

The research by Pavlova et al. (2020) concluded that…

Example 3:

Results from Pavlova et al. (2020) showed that…



Even a language as dead as Latin still has pieces of its remnants in the present day, such as “et alia” or “et al.”

In a nutshell, this simply tells us that, whether we like it or not, we tremendously owe our present lives, as well as our future, to the past.

Hope we were able to help in clearing out your confusion about the topic in our post today. See you again next time!


Frequently Asked Questions on “et al.’s” vs “et al.”


Can we use “et al.” in an email?

When you are referring to multiple people, which means three or more rather than only one or two, it is convenient to use the abbreviation “et al.” even in emails as long as we are certain that the addressee knows what it means.


What does “et al.’s” mean?

“Et al.’s” is the possessive form of the Latin abbreviation “et al.” which stands for “et alia” and translates to “and others” in English. “Et al.” is particularly used to denote multiple authors in academic papers.


How can we use “et al.” in a sentence?

Per APA and MLA, “et al.” is used to cite works done by three or more authors such as in the sentence “Jones et al. (2013) hypothesize that x is dependent on y.” Always remember that the use of “et al.” suggests plural subjects, and hence, the verb must also agree with it accordingly.