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, 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, abbreviated e.g., means “for example.” Note three things about its use: (1) it is always followed by a comma: 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, 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 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: none of the above Latinate abbreviations is italicized in text (despite their appearance as such in this article).
 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.
 A “caveat” is literally a warning or a word of caution.
© 2018 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.