Friday, 29 January 2021

Making et al possessive

A student recently sent me a draft master thesis which contained an interesting attempt at making an APA "et al." citation possessive. The citation was:

The implications of this research goes back to Seville’s et. al., (2008) definition of resilience... 

I was surprised at how quickly I spotted this, and immediately went to add a comment that perhaps this should be formatted as "Seville et al.'s"... before I brought myself up short. 

What was I thinking? I was attempting to apply the English plurals rules - 'cups of tea', 'tape measures' - to 'et al.'. This is a Latin construction... and contraction, for that matter. Surely we would not Anglicise a Latin construction by belting a possessive apostrophe on it?

So I went for a riffle through my APA 7th edition handbook (2019). While on page 162 there was a brief discussion of style around possessive apostrophe use, it did not relate to in text citations. Time for a Google search.

I hit pay-dirt with the wise words of Sarah Madden who responded to a Quora question on just this topic (Klyne, 2020). Sarah said that, as 'et al.' is already a plural abbreviation for 'and the others', making the phrase possessive would be inelegant. How masterful! Her suggestion was a rewrite to make the possessive unnecessary.  A later responder, Joanne Treasure, also added that, as a Latin phrase, we should not attempt a possessive aphostrophisation (if that is even a word!).

A simple rewrite avoids a possessive apostrophe completely:

The definition of resilience (Seville et al., 2008) has implications for this research...

Writing is fascinating



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