When to use et al. in APA citation style

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APA citation style has a few quirks, and one of them is the use of the phrase “et al.,” which is short for the Latin term et alia, meaning, “and others.” We use the abbreviated “et al.” when citing a source with multiple authors. However, the 7th edition of APA citation differs from previous versions in how “et al.” is applied.

Only use et al. in in-text citations

The abbreviation “et al.” is used only for in-text citations in the 7th edition. This is a big change from the 6th edition where it was also used in the reference list.

This means that references in APA 7 do NOT use the phrase “et al.”

In-text citation format with et al.

The phrase “et al.” is used with in-text citations only when referencing a source that has three or more authors. Include the name of only the first author’s last name plus “et al.” in every citation.

In-text citation structure:

Text (1st Author et al., Year Published )

OR

Text that mentions 1st Author et al. (Year Published)

In-text citation example:

The American Heart Association, in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health (Virani et al., 2020), annually report on the most up-to-date statistics related to heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular risk factors, including core health behaviors and health factors that contribute to cardiovascular health.

OR

According to Virani et al. (2020), the American Heart Association, in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, annually report on the most up-to-date statistics related to heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular risk factors, including core health behaviors and health factors that contribute to cardiovascular health.

The same rules apply for page numbers as with fewer authors, regardless of whether the citation is parenthetical or narrative.

Rare exception: Multiple works with the same authors

There are times when using “et al.” can cause more problems by muddying the waters. If multiple works have the same three or more authors and publication year, simply using “et al.” becomes confusing.

Since this is the case, when there is more than one source with the same three or more author surnames and date, it may be necessary to write out as many names as needed to distinguish the references, then “et al.” can be used for the remaining names for each citation throughout the text. If this doesn’t help to distinguish the sources, but the first initials are different, they can be used as well (T. Hanks et al.). As a last resort, a letter can accompany the year (2018a).

APA reference list entries for multiple authors

Per APA style, every in-text citation has a reference in the the reference list. Each reference contains source information to allow a reader to track down a source for additional reading, if desired.

In the reference list “et al.” is not used even if a work has more than three authors.

2 authors

Sources with two authors list the last name and initials (First initial, and middle if available) of both authors. The names are divided by a comma and an ampersand (&). List the names in the order they are shown in the original source.

Author structure:

1st Last Name, F. M., & 2nd Last Name, F. M.

Example reference:

Handler, D., & Kalman, M. (2013). Why we broke up. Little, Brown and Company.

3 to 20 authors

Sources with 3 to 20 authors list the last name and initials of all authors. Each name is divided by a comma, and the last name is preceded by an ampersand (&). List each name in the order they are shown in the original source.

Author structure (f0r 3 authors, as an example):

1st Last Name, F. M., 2nd Last Name, F. M., & 3rd Last Name, F. M.

Example reference:

Hand, C., Ashton, B., & Meadows, J. (2016). My lady Jane. HarperCollins Publishers.

21 or more authors

Sources with 21 or more authors list the last name and initials of the first 19 names. After the 19th name, include an ellipsis and then the final name.

Author structure:

1st Last Name, F. M., 2nd Last Name, F. M., 3rd Last Name, F. M., 4th Last Name, F. M., 5th Last Name, F. M., 6th Last Name, F. M., 7th Last Name, F. M., 8th Last Name, F. M., 9th Last Name, F. M., 10th Last Name, F. M., 11th Last Name, F. M., 12th Last Name, F. M., 13th Last Name, F. M., 14th Last Name, F. M., 15th Last Name, F. M., 16th Last Name, F. M., 17th Last Name, F. M., 18th Last Name, F. M., 19th Last Name, F. M., . . . Final Last Name, F. M.

Example reference:

Virani, S. S., Alonso, A., Benjamin, E. J., Bittencourt, M. S., Callaway, C. W., Carson, A. P., Chamberlain, A. M., Chang, A. R., Cheng, S., Delling, F. N., Djousse, L., Elkind, M. S. V., Ferguson, J. F., Fornage, M., Khan, S. S., Kissela, B. M., Knutson, K. L., Kwan, T. W., Lackland, D. T., . . . Heard, D. G. (2020). Heart disease and stroke statistics—2020 update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, E139–E596. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000757

The powers that be at the APA citation style believe this change will be a welcome one for authors, as it gives more of them credit for their contributions.


Published October 28, 2020.


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