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English Language Usage: Et Cetera, Etcetera, Etc.

Updated on December 1, 2016

ETC

'Et' and 'Cetera'.

Many of us use the abbreviation 'etc', for 'et cetera' or 'etcetera', on a regular basis.

But are we using this correctly ~ and are we spelling it correctly?

It is used at the end of a list and means: 'and other things of a similar nature'. The implication being that these other things can easily be guessed and are not important enough to mention individually.

'Et cetera', 'etcetera' or 'etc', might be used once, or more than once.

An example might be: 'In his pencil case, he carried pens, ruler, erasers, etc.'

A more abstract example is: We should keep wishing, hoping, striving, etcetera, etcetera.

History: Latin

The phrase 'et cetera' has been in use since the 15th century, but only became popular during the 20th century. It is used more frequently, now, than the previously common abbreviation: '&c' ~ 'and the rest'.

'Et cetera' is from Latin ~ indeed, it is in Latin ~ and it was, originally, a two-word phrase: 'et' and 'cetera'. Now, though, when it is used in full, it is often written as just one word.

As anyone who has studied French may guess, 'et' means 'and'.

The term 'cetera' is from 'ceteri' and means 'the others'.

Latin, like certain other languages, has feminine, masculine and neuter forms of its words, as well as singular and plural. In this case, 'cetera' is a neuter plural form. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'ceterus' means 'left over' ~ ie. 'the rest'.

Since 'et' means 'and', one does not need and should not write 'and etcetera', where the word 'and' is redundant.

'Et cetera' or 'etcetera' and the abbreviation, 'etc', should only be used for things, ideas, etc ~ ie. never for people.

When writing a list of people, the Latin phrase 'et al' should be used. This is an abbreviated form of 'et alii' / 'et aliƦ' / 'et alia', which are masculine, feminine and neuter versions of 'and others' or 'and other people'. Thus, a postcard sent to the family, might be addressed to 'Mum, Dad, et al'.

Problems with Spelling 'Etc'

A number of English-speaking people seem to have problems with the spelling of the abbreviation 'etc'.

This is, quite probably, because it is not related to an English phrase. Thus, writers do not always know the original words, and, so, cannot be sure what the abbreviation should be, or in what order those letters ~ e, t, c ~ should be placed.

Knowing that the phrase means something to the effect of 'and so on', 'and the others', and realising that this involves the word 'and', which is Latin 'et', should remind them that these are the first two letters of the 'word' that they seek ~ just leaving 'c' to be added to the end: 'etc'.

Etceteras

'Etceteras' is sometimes used to mean 'additional items'.

For example:

In her bag, mother carried lipstick, comb, tissues, money and various other etceteras.

Remember

The abbreviation for 'etcetera' is 'etc'.

The word 'and' should not be placed before 'etc' / 'etcetera'.

'Etcetera' / 'etc' should not be used for lists of people.

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    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi Trisha. I know where to go when I need a grammar lesson. We really need reviews, and I need to read more of your grammar hubs. I found your comment on one of my articles, so here I am. Thanks for sharing your expertise. Blessings. Audrey

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      4 years ago from The English Midlands

      Thanks 'Wacky Mummy', I'll have a look :)

    • Wacky Mummy profile image

      Wacky Mummy 

      4 years ago from UK

      It's called 'The Mother Tongue' :) It's not overly expensive either as it has been out a while now :)

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      4 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Wacky Mummy :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I like Bill Bryson's books. I'll look out for that one :)

    • Wacky Mummy profile image

      Wacky Mummy 

      4 years ago from UK

      Great hub! And very true - though I think some of the confusion comes in with there being so many forums around that are a mix of UK/US English these days, sometimes we just pick up phrases and spellings from each other without realising it :) and the English Language can be so complex anyway! Bill Bryson wrote a very good book on the topic. x

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Thanks, Marlene.

      We share a common interest here :)

      Words really are fascinating. This is one of the reasons that I am so interested in the development of place names.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      6 years ago from USA

      I don't consider reading the dictionary strange at all. In fact, I went through a phase when, instead of picking up a novel, I would pick up the dictionary to read it. To this day, I always have the dictionary "live" in an internet window. I click on the little megaphone to hear the word (even if it is a common word), and I really enjoy reading about the history of words. That's why your hub is especially fascinating to me.

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Thank you, Marlene!

      I always learn so much about the history of words and phrases, whenever I pick up a dictionary ~ which is strange, really, considering we use them every day :)

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      6 years ago from USA

      Excellent and with examples to really help make the lesson clear. I learned more than I thought there was to know about the word et cetera. Thank you. This was quite fascinating.

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi phdast7 ~ a fellow lover of words!

      Thank you for reading!

      I suppose that, being a historian, it isn't surprising that the history of words fascinates me!

      Perhaps it's the same for you :)

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Useful, interesting, enjoyable! :) As you already know I am a great aficionado of words and language. :)

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Derdriu :)

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Very much appreciated! Glad you enjoyed it :)

    • profile image

      Derdriu 

      6 years ago

      Trish, What an amusing, entertaining but highly informative summary of what it means to use "etc," "et cetera" and "et al"! You do a really great job of defining terms and giving examples. So there should be no excuse -- other than the weight of breaking a habit -- for getting the phrase confused or using it incorrectly.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Brett :)

      Thank you!

      Yes, English is a crazy mixture. That makes it interesting, though! :)

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      6 years ago from Thailand

      Detailed, historical and interesting. Many native writers make mistakes, as the English language is a combination of many languages and some variable rules! Not surprising that it is so tricky to master.

      Shared, up, useful and tweeted.

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Bob :)

      Thanks ~ etc!

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      So many foreign words and expressions are common -- but often misunderstood -- in America that you could easily write 1,000 hubs to clarify their proper use. Nice work, Trish M.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Trish. My favorite tool, the etc.

      Voted up, etc.

      Bob

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Thanks, Gus!

      That's very kind :)

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      6 years ago from USA

      Hi Trish M - Enjoyed reading your article, hope that those who spell things wrongly learn from it, look forward to reading more of your stuff, etc. :)

      Gus :-)))

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi DS Duby :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 

      6 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Very interesting, I just used etc. in my latest hub last night. I never realized how many people must mess this abbreviation up. Great article

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      B. Leekley ~ Hi and thank you! :)

      Yes, indeed, we have a huge vocabulary that we can use in our English writing!

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hello to Kelley Ward and Keeley Shea :) :)

      Thanks for dropping by. I am very pleased that you found this to be interesting and useful :)

    • Trish_M profile imageAUTHOR

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hello Justateacher :)

      Yes, I know what you mean. I suppose that this is why I finally decided to write the article :)

    • Keeley Shea profile image

      Keeley Shea 

      6 years ago from Norwich, CT

      Very interesting article, and it is now very clear to me how the word should be used and how it should be spelled. I look forward to confidently using the et cetera, etcetera, or etc. from now on. :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, useful, and interesting. Another choice is to use English phrases, such as "and so on" or "and the like" for etc. or "and all" or "and the others" for et al. For instance, say that I am in a writing group and that a member named Fred sends a group e-mail; I might address my Reply To All, "Hi Fred and all –". Either choice, English phrase or commonly used Latin phrase, is fine.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for clearing this up. I have made this error before and you have given me great examples so i can avoid making this error in the future. Voted up, useful and shared. Take care, Kelley

    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 

      6 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      One of my biggest pet peeves is people who write ect instead of etc! And when I try to correct them, they tell me I am wrong!

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