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Q&A

What is the possessive form of et al.?

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When referring to a paper with multiple authors by using the name of the first author and "et al.", how does one indicate possession?

For example, is it correct to write, "Einstein et al.'s paper stated the opposite conclusion."

Some have suggested that rephrasing is the best option, but let's assume that is not an option (for whatever reason).

Another suggestion is to drop the Latin "et al." and use the English "and colleagues". However, again, I am interested in knowing how to use "et al." specifically.

Another suggestion put the 's with Einstein: Einstein's et al. paper. However, this seems incorrect to me.

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3 answers

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Note: I can't comment on how this is generally approached in other subjects, but you're referencing Einstein, so as a physicist, I feel semi-qualified to weigh in on how we do it in physics. Note that this isn't necessarily general advice, but it likely applies elsewhere.

Summary

"Einstein et al.'s ..." works OK, although in the majority of occassions I can think of, I'd rewrite to get rid of the possessive; "Einstein's et al. ..." is definitely not something I would use or have ever seen or heard of.


Details and examples

There are a few possible cases/options that apply here: While this list isn't necessarily comprehensive, you might want to...

  1. use a formal, 'standard' referencing convention, in which case, every reference perhaps looks like something between square brackets e.g. [1] or [Mit21] or possibly an author (with et al.) and year e.g. (Rincewind et al., 2021) - no-one (that I know of/have seen) uses possessives of these, so it's not part of the 'standard convention', so the only way forward would be to reword the sentence.

The gedankenexperiment ['thought experiment'] in [15] demonstrated ...

  1. use an informal standard referencing convention. This is as per 1. but a bit more personal. I'd generally think of this in the first person, but in certain contexts, I see no reason it wouldn't work in the third person as well.

In [5], we considered the use of ...

  1. mix the notation given in the question with standard citation. I'd consider this to be the third person version of 2. although could also be made more formal.

Cubitt et al. [12] proved ...

For more details, see the proof in/by Cubitt et al. [12]

  1. stick with 'et al.' but remove possessiveness. Could be useful if the paper and authors have already been mentioned. Would still recommend a proper citation.

Squarepants et al. experimentally demonstrated that living underwater ...

  1. use the possessive form of 'et al.'. I have only ever seen this as "et al.'s" but even this is relatively rare and I would generally recommend one of the other options above.

Hong et al's experiment in the 1980s was...


Generally, the closer to the top of the list, the more formal the expression but overall, the preferred expression depends a lot on the context and desired emphasis. If you're writing a presentation for a small group of people you already know, being more informal might actually be a good thing. If you're doing a presentation about the history of certain experiments, you're likely going to want a better way to refer to them than a number, so informally referring to them by author et al.'s names (i.e. just like that) would work quite well in this situation. However, if writing a paper intended for submission to a journal, it's likely that more formal expressions are more appropriate.

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+1
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Just use the other possessive form:

The paper of Einstein et al. stated the opposite conclusion.

Although it would read better if you replaced “of” with “by”, but then it would no longer be a possessive case, and thus violate your (rather strange) restriction.

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+0
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The abbreviation “et al.” is plural for “and others,” and it is almost certainly incorrect to make it possessive.

You should consider rewriting the sentence instead of making it possessive.

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While we do allow self-answers, it's really rather strange to post a self-answer suggesting a solution that one's own question explicitly disallows. Canina‭ about 1 month ago

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