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May 13, 2010

It’s All Latin to Me: Latin Abbreviations in Scholarly Writing

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

The English language loves to appropriate words from other languages and claim them as its own. Some of these words and phrases have become so well used in scientific writing that you can employ them in your writing as abbreviations without any definitions or special attention (for instance, no need for italics). Yet readers new to scientific writing might find themselves scratching their heads and exclaiming, "It’s all Greek to me!" (Though the grammarian in me would point out that all the expressions below actually come from Latin, not Greek.)

The table below focuses on Latin abbreviations common to scholarly writing that may be used without definition in APA Style. Note that this list is not exhaustive. See also section 4.26 (p. 108) of the Publication Manual for more.


Abbreviation Meaning Example use Notes for APA Style
Used inside of parentheses only
cf. “compare” or “consult” (used to provide contrasting or opposing information) Abbott (2010) found supportive results in her memory experiment, unlike those of previous work (cf. Zeller & Williams, 2007). She expands on the working memory literature (see also Evans & Potter, 2005). Never put a comma after. Do not put a period between the c and the f. Use “cf.” to contrast; to compare like things, use “see” or “see also.”
e.g., “for example,” (abbreviation for exempli gratia) Some studies (e.g., Jenkins & Morgan, 2010; Macmillan, 2009) have supported this conclusion. Others—for example, Chang (2004)—disagreed. Always put a comma after.
etc. “and so on” or “and so forth” (abbreviation for et cetera) Students ranked their school subjects (chemistry, math, etc.) in order of preference, first, second, third, and so on, until they had ranked the entire list. A majority ranked science-related subjects (biology etc.) as their second favorite. Put a comma before if used to end a list of at least two other items, as shown in the example.
i.e., “that is,” (abbreviation for id est; used to give specific clarification) The experimenters manipulated the order of presentation (i.e., first, second, or third) of the three images as well their size, that is, whether they were small or large. Always put a comma after.
viz., “namely,” We first replicated our earlier study (viz., Black & Avery, 2008) and then extended it. Always put a comma after.
vs. “versus” The 2 (low vs. high) × 2 (blue vs. green) analysis of variance revealed that the low versus high distinction was not significant. Exception: With legal citations use v. instead (with italics; see also Appendix 7.1, section A7.03, Examples 1–8).
Used inside and outside of parentheses
et al. “and others” Thomas, Greengrass, and Hopkirk (2010) made several excellent points about goal-seeking behavior. Thomas et al. began with how goals are selected. Must refer to at least two people because it is a plural phrase. See section 6.12 (p. 175) for more on how to use.
Never used in APA Style
ibid. abbreviation for ibidem, used in citations to refer again to the last source previously referenced ——— Not used in APA Style; instead give each citation using author names as usual.

Note. All abbreviations in the first section should be used inside of parentheses only, that is, when you are making a parenthetical statement. Outside of parentheses, spell these expressions out using the definitions given in the Meaning column. The abbreviation “et al.” is used both inside and outside of parentheses. Directions on comma use always apply, whether you are abbreviating or not. Although the abbreviation “ibid.” is not used in APA Style, it is included here because it occurs in non-APA scholarly writing and readers may be otherwise unfamiliar with it. Unless otherwise noted, none of these abbreviations should be italicized.


You can download a PDF of the Latin abbreviations table here if you would like to use it as a handout for teaching or classroom purposes.

Feel free to share your contributions in the comments!

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