Grammar tips: et cetera and ellipses

And the list goes on and on ...

When we write, sometimes, we like to indicate things that are missing from our writing.

By special request from one of our call center employees, we are going to review two grammar items that often get confused – etc. and ellipses.

Et cetera (etc.)

First, the often misused and incorrectly punctuated “etc.” Etc. is the abbreviation for “et cetera,” which means “and the rest.” So, in writing, it actually means “and so on” or “and other things” in the same class as the objects that you are listing but are not including in the list. If you are listing specific items, you should not use etc.

Additionally, you should not use “and etc.,” because you would be saying “and and.” And, if you used “such as” or “for example or e.g.” earlier in the sentence, which we discussed in this blog, it is not necessary to use “etc.” That would be redundant because you already indicated that the list is incomplete since you’re just providing a few examples. It also is redundant and unnecessary to say “etc., etc.” And, one final tidbit: “etc.” and “et al.” do not mean the same thing. “Et al.” is to be used with a list of people because it means “et alii” or “and other people.”

No matter where it appears in the sentence, “etc.” requires a period after the “c” and a comma if it ends a list in the middle of the sentence:

  • I love riding all amusement park rides (the Ferris wheel, roller coasters, bumper cars, carousel, etc.).
  • I love riding Ferris wheels, roller coasters, bumper cars, carousels, etc., but my favorite is the roller coasters.

Ellipses (…)

Now, on to ellipses. An ellipses is that pesky set of three periods (…). More often than not, it is used unnecessarily and confuses the reader. It should be used mainly in formal writing to show when a thought is trailing off, a writer is pausing for emphasis or for serious thought, or in quoted material to show that content has been omitted, but not if it changes the meaning of the quote.

One way to avoid using an ellipses incorrectly is to just finish the sentence or thought. Often, an ellipses is inserted to serve a similar purpose as when we say “um” or “uh” when we talk out loud to show that we are thinking or buying time. It’s like an uncomfortable silence or throat clearing. Or, sometimes it’s used when we trail off our thought at the end of the sentence without finishing by implying that we have more to say when we don’t.

An example of proper use:

  • My neighbor told me that the couple down the street is getting a divorce because the wife was unfaithful. With raised eyebrows, I asked her, “You don’t think she’d really …?”