Commas, Etc.

Personally, I really dislike the use of etc., et al, i.e., and e.g. Think about it—how many people really know what i.e. stands for—or even care? Why would we in this day and age use weird abbreviations for Latin terms we as a culture have long forgotten? If you are like me, you probably forget whether to use i.e. or e.g.  “In other words” and “For example” seem to be a lot easier to understand and don’t sound so hoity-toity in my book. But if you really have a hankering to use etc. (etcetera literally means “and others of the same kind”), it is preceded and  followed by a comma when it is the final item in a series (unless it ends a sentence). Such equivalents as and so forth and and the like are usually treated the same way. (In formal prose, etc. should be avoided, though it is usually acceptable in lists and tables, in notes, and within parentheses.)

  • I bought my school supplies (pencils, notebook paper, etc., that the teacher told us to buy) this evening.
  • The ingredients I needed, such as flour, sugar, salt, etc., were in short supply at the market.
  • My favorite movies, like Star Wars, Evolution, Galaxy Quest, and the like, were all checked out at the movie store.

But think about rewriting, reworking, revising, etc., if you are going to use a lot of old-fashioned abbreviations! Your writing will be a whole lot more interesting. Oh, and if you have an ampersand—&—don’t use a comma: “I work at the law firm Tom, Dick & Harry.”


10 Responses to “Commas, Etc.”

  1. Michael N. Marcus February 8, 2013 at 3:03 am #

    Latin abbreviations and phrases are no more “hoity toity” than other terms borrowed from other languages, and they enrich writing and speech.

    Kids should be taught the difference between “i.e.” and “e.g.” At one time Latin was a basic part of American education, and it is still important in law, medicine and science.

    The American English language did not come from the grunts of cavemen. It came from older languages, and keeps growing.

    Should we stop saying “couch” and “cashier” because they come from French words? “Kindergarten” is an unchanged German word. “Bungalow” and “cummerbund” come from Hindi. “Cantaloupe” comes from Italian. “Opera,” “bonus,” “via” and vagina” are Latin words. “Algebra,” “assassin” and “checkmate” come from Arabic. “Sapphire,” “halleluja” and “sabbath” come from Hebrew.”


    Michael N. Marcus

  2. Janet Boyer February 8, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    I agree with Michael. Educated writers know what those abbreviations mean and, lest we lower the bar even further, readers should know them, too.

    • cslakin February 8, 2013 at 10:13 am #

      To me, it’s not about showing you are educated. It’s more about pleasant reading. Whether fiction or nonfiction, there are much stronger, attractive ways to construct a sentence than using those abbreviations. I’m not saying a person shouldn’t know what they are, but sometimes it’s just sloppy writing that could be replaced with stronger, more effective sentence construction.

  3. Grace February 8, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    Thanks for this post! I have nothing against e.g., etc., and others–when they’re used correctly–but I know that I’m probably a little too fond of them and over-use them. A trick that I use to help me remember the approximate meaning is: i.e. means “in essence” and e.g. means “example given.” Way easier than remembering the Latin, at least for me.

    I have never seen anyone use a comma after an ampersand, but since we often use commas after “and” it’s a good thing to make note of.

    And by the way, Galaxy Quest is one of my favorite movies, too! 😉

    • cslakin February 8, 2013 at 10:24 am #

      The comma isn’t often put after the ampersand, it’s put before it. But the serial comma rule is not valid is this case. Thanks for the comment!

  4. david werenka February 8, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    good one c.s.. least we forget.

  5. Christa Simpson February 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    I can tell you, working in lawyers office myself, that I use those abbreviations daily. You will not, however, find those in my romance novels…unless of course my character is a lawyer and I’m trying to make a point. I agree that it ruins the flow in a fictional story. It also limits your reader base significantly when you exclude those readers who might be less than scholarly. That’s just my perspective. 🙂

  6. Dana McNeely February 9, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    I hope it isn’t rude to ask this here, Susan, but your posts on commas have been helpful – yet I’m still not sure if I’ve punctuated this sentence correctly.

    Like me, he is wearing the blood-red tunic of those who have reached their fourteenth year, who at the first full moon during the barley harvest will undergo the rites inducting them into the priesthood of Melqart, the Ba’al of Samaria.

    • cslakin February 9, 2013 at 7:08 am #

      It reads fine, although I’m not sure what the Ba’al is. It’s implied by the way you’ve written it that the Ba’al is another name for the priesthood. If it means something else, that phrase needs to be placed in a correct spot in the sentence. Is “he” the Ba’al? Then I would write, for example, “Like me, the Ba’al of Samaria is wearing …”

      • Dana McNeely February 9, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

        Many of the gods of the ancient Phoenician cities and of Canaan were called by the collective name of Ba’al (sometimes Baal) but there were individual names of the deity in different regions and cities. The Ba’al in the city of Samaria was called Melqart. I’ll think about how to make this more clear. Thanks for commenting on it.

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