Commonly Misused Latinate Abbreviations in American English

Have you mastered these everyday abbreviations?

Latinate abbreviations (i.e., abbreviations of Latin expressions used in English) can serve as useful tools to enhance our writing. If improperly used, they can detract from our writing and reflect poorly on the writer. Here are some of the most common Latinate abbreviations, their meanings, and notes on their usage. Notice in particular the placement of the periods.

et cetera

Et cetera, abbreviated etc., means “and so forth” (literally, “and others of the same kind”). Note three things about this abbreviation: (1) It is etc., not ect., and it is not pronounced eck-cetera; (2) It is not “and etc.,” (which would literally be “and and so forth”—that’s redundant); and (3) etc. should be used sparingly in formal writing because it’s a vague term that can make the writer seem lazy—it places the burden on the reader to imagine what specifically the writer is referring to.

exempli grata

Exempli grata, abbreviated e.g., means “for example.” Note three things about its use: (1) it is always followed by a comma[1]: The vendor on the corner is selling flowers for Mother’s Day (e.g., red and yellow roses and white and pink carnations); (2) in formal writing, it should be used in parenthetical statements (as in the previous sentence). In the main text it is better to use words like “such as” or “for example”; (3) be careful not to confuse it with i.e., which means something quite different.

id est

Id est, abbreviated i.e., means “that is.” Note three things about its use: (1) Like e.g., it is always followed by a comma: The vendor on the corner is selling something almost every mother wants on Mother’s Day (i.e., flowers).; (2) like e.g., it is preferable to use i.e. in parenthetical expressions rather than in the main text; (3) be careful not to confuse it with e.g., which means something quite different.

et al._word-art
et alii

Et alii (or et alia), abbreviated et al., means “and others” (referring to people). Note three things about its use: (1) a period follows al because it is an abbreviation of alii; (2) Be careful not to place the period—or worse, a comma—after either et or al; (3) it is preferable to use et al. in parenthetical expressions rather than in the main text, where it’s better to spell out “and others” or “and the others.”

One caveat[2]: none of the above Latinate abbreviations is italicized in text (despite their appearance as such in this article).

[1] Of course, there are occasional exceptions, but for the most part, this “always followed by a comma” rule applies. However, in British English, e.g. (like i.e.) is typically not followed by a comma.

[2] A “caveat” is literally a warning or a word of caution.

© 2018 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, baseball bug, word lover, book hound, guitar picker, classical music aficionado, classic rock 'n' roll and movie buff, sinner, saint, former this, used-to-be that, and future who-knows-what. Every day is an adventure in learning how to make the world a better place--grammatically, anyway.

6 thoughts on “Commonly Misused Latinate Abbreviations in American English”

    1. Just thinking of all the challenges you have overcome in life and all the ways you have blessed people through the years – down to the present moment -inspires and humbles me. Thank you for being who you are.


  1. I always use the phrase that is never thinking to use i.e. I love reading your post and I find myself always taking notes to reinforce an idea or something you have taught us. I took 3 English classes in college. I wish you had been my Prof. I took my English at Delta College. Corky

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I really wish I had given more attention to the detail and importance of our on language. Being more prepared would have sure helped me when I was teaching grad school at San Jose State. I was an instructor at Santa Clara and I got to lecture in my field at Stanford. State would actually let me teach a class once in a while. I had a License as an M.F.T. but no Doctorate. No Doctorate no class assignments only fill in. I didn’t assign a lot of APA style papers. Anyway I wish when I was in high school I would have had my head on straight and studied my English. I enjoy your work and willingness to share your experience and knowledge. Corky

        Liked by 1 person

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