How to use the possessive 's with et al.?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by arly, Dec 1, 2009.

  1. arly Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Johann et al.'s findings?

    Is this correct? Do I write et al., with the dot, and then 's?
  2. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    If pushed, I would put the 's with Johann: Johann's et al. findings.

    I would not attach it to et al., because al. is the abbreviation of a Latin word, and Latin doesn't form the possessive by 's.

    I would far prefer to get around the question by writing: the findings of Jahann et al.
  3. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I absolutely would not use an apostrophe+s in connection with et al.

    Et alii is a Latin phrase, and Latin has its own rules about making plural possessives -- and those rules do not involve apostrophes!! If you need to make possessive of this, you should use an "of" phrase:

    The study was performed by Green. Green's study determined that the test will not work underwater.


    The study was performed by Green et al. The study of Green et al. determined that the test will not work underwater.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2009
  4. SpyroNinja Member

    New York City
    English, New York
    I agree that rephrasing is the best option. "The ____ of Johann et al." would be much better than anything with an apostrophe.

    It's confusing because the 's attaches to the noun phrase in English, not the noun, so you have the right idea, but it's very awkward. (The man with the hat's dog vs. *the man's with the hat dog.)
  5. m_carvalho New Member

    Portuguese - Portugal
    Hi, arly,

    When facing the situation you are in, I drop the Latin "et al." and use the English "and colleagues". Problem solved ;)

    Best regards.
  6. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Yes, I would do it your way if you wanted to use the possessive 's. But it's awkward however you do it. The element 's doesn't attach to single words, it attaches to whole phrases: Johann et al. is a suitable phrase, so its genitive is Johann et al.'s. But this looks so bad because of the punctuation that it would be better to avoid it and write of Johann et al.

    The fact that the English phrase Johann et al. contains an abbreviation for a Latin word is irrelevant - there is no Latin involved in the grammar of the English, and the 's clitic doesn't care about the internal structure of the phrase it's attached to. In speech, there is no problem about saying al's - the problem is purely with how to write it.
  7. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    That seems absolutely fine to me.

    As etb says, the 's attaches to a phrase. I don't see why it shouldn't attach to Johann et al.

    That said, I use full stops/periods a lot less than American colleagues, judging by this forum. I'd probably write Johann et al's findings.
  8. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    It seems to be true, as entangledbank says, that some people do use "[Someone] et al" as a fixed phrase and attach a possessive to it. When I search the American corpus, COCA, for et al's, I find 11 results, 8 of them classified as "academic". (In these, al is not followed with a period.) When I search the same corpus for "of * et al", I get a total of 193. (Here, the abbreviation ends with with a period.)

    Unfortunately, when I do the same search of the British National Corpus, I get no results, nor do I get results for et al by itself. This corpus apparently does not include academic writing.
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I distrust Google counts, but it reports about 233,000 for "et al's" worldwide, about 30,400 for "et al's" UK.

    I get silly numbers when I add the period/full stop:
    World: about 14,800,000 for "et al.'s
    UK: about 1,080,000 for "et al.'s".
  10. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Curiously, in this case in a Google search for et al's,
    my promised 880,000 + hits world wide, ends with 520 actual citations when I click through,

    while the same search for site:UK promises only 17,000 and ends up 813 actual hits when I click through. (Most of them are PDF files, which I assume means that they are published academic papers. I think the UK universities may be better about putting academic work on line than US universities are.)
    Apart from the side issue of Google results, which always interests me, I do agree that evidence shows et al's is more widely used than I supposed.

    A UK search for "of * et al" gets many more hits, but doesn't sort out the construction we are interested in.

    [A thread that explains why Panjandrum and others are cautious about using Google counts: Banning number of hits reported by Google. If you are interested in reading it, you might start around the middle of the second page.]
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2009
  11. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I assume we are talking about academic writing. In this case, there is no option to say 'Johann and colleagues' instead of 'Johann et al.' - all the academic style guides I know insist on this. I am particular enough to want to have the full stop (because unlike Mr, Revd or Dr, the last letter is not included in the abbreviation).

    I also agree that we need not worry too much about the Latin-English mix, and would go for Johann et al.'s findings - if I had a choice I would italicise et al. - but I wouldn't get too worked up if the full stop was omitted. There is a tendency for 'lighter' punctuation in BE style these days.

    If there is a year citation, then it should be Johann et al.'s (2008) findings rather than the logical Johann et al. (2008)'s findings as that would be unpronounceable! :eek:
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2009

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