Use of the abbreviation "etc"

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Use of the abbreviation "etc"

Post  Vincent Law on Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:29 pm

You might think that it's easy to use et cetera, which translates to "and others" or, more literally, "and the other things", and is abbreviated as "etc.". Surely everyone knows how to use "etc." correctly, right? Well, it's not all straightforward––et cetera can be commonly misspelled, improperly punctuated and even mispronounced!
The use of et cetera isn't usually taught in schools or tutoring because it's considered to be just an abbreviation. Regardless, it's important to know how to use it properly, so here's how to do so.

1. Learn what et cetera is used for. Et cetera is used as a short way to say, "and so forth", "and so on", or "and other things", and is also used to describe a list without listing everything. For example:
- "We could use cupcakes, cookies, etc." This shows that they can use any kind of dessert, and it could be rewritten by, "We could use cupcakes, cookies, and so on."
Learn the other possibilities for saying the same thing as "et cetera". You could say, "and so on", but you could also write "...". Whichever way you use, it will serve the same purpose and will work to convey the correct meaning.

2. Remember the spelling. You can write it either way, "Et Cetera", or "etc.". Some other versions of etc. include et caetera, et cœtera or et coetera, but its usual spelling can be etc. Remember exactly how it's spelled, because when it's misspelled, it can look very obvious. Don't spell it, "ect" or "cet" or anything, although it can be spelled &e., &/c., or &ct. You don't need to learn all of these spellings, but choose one that you can rely on to use.
- Be careful how you pronounce et cetera. If you're in the habit of saying "ek-SET-ra", it's time to kick out the "k" sound! The real pronunciation is "EHT set-er-uh."

3. Work on the punctuation of it. At the end of "etc", there should be a period. (This does not apply if you are using modern "open punctuation", which dispenses with periods for eg, ie etc). That's obvious, right? However, when you still have more to say in the sentence, you should put a comma after the period. If you are finished with the sentence, end with that period, don't put anything else, but if you still have more to say, put a comma at the end and finish. For example:
-"They ate cookies, cakes, peanuts, fairy floss, etc., and it's little wonder they ended up with stomach aches."

4. Learn how to put in the punctuation around it. Yes, you should put a period and a comma, but when you also work with semicolons, question marks, and exclamation points, "etc." can be confusing. Here are a few examples:
- Put a question mark after the period in "etc."
- Put an exclamation point immediately after the period.
- Put the semicolon in right after the period and put a space between it and the next word.
- You do not need to put parenthesis around the things you are et cetera-ing. Just be sure to put a semicolon.

5. Know when to use it. In formal writing, it may be more appropriate to use "etc.". In everyday talk, it may be okay as well, but if you don't know exactly how to use it, don't. Instead, stay on the safe side, so that people will not be utterly confused on what you mean. It might be better to stick with "and so forth" or "and others" when speaking.
- Note that you cannot use "etc." if you're directing a specific list of items that are needed and not anything more. If you only need cookies, cake, and donuts for the party, writing "cookies, cake, donuts, etc." will not be appropriate because it will give the reader the assumption that he can bring anything else.

- Use your best judgement when using et cetera. Sometimes, writing the words "and so on" or typing "..."] can be more appropriate or may simply look better in the context.
- Similarly, et ux or et vir (pronounced "eht VEER") are used (mostly in legal circles) to define the other party as "and wife" or "and husband", respectively, even if the other party is then named. For example, "John Smith et ux", or "John Smith et ux Melissa Smith."

- While the rule is not always observed, "et cetera" is usually used for things. For omission of a list of people, "et alii", or "et al." is preferred. The same punctuation rules apply, except that there is always a space in "et al".

Vincent Law
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