‘Etc.’ in a list introduced by ‘e.g.’

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

The abbreviation “e.g.” (pronounced /iːdʒiː/) comes from the Latin phrase exemplī grātiā which means “for example” or, more precisely, “for the sake of example”. It implies that an incomplete list of examples follows, as in:

Some rather surprising kinds of fruit are considered to be “berries”, e.g. bananas, avocados, pumpkins.

Another common Latin abbreviation is “etc.” (et cetera, pronounced /ˌɛtˈsɛtərə/) which means “and the rest” or “and so forth”. Many people write “etc.” at the end of a list introduced by “e.g.”, but this is superfluous (and is therefore often considered bad style), since “e.g.” already implies that the list that follows is incomplete.

It may even be considered incorrect to write “etc.” after “e.g.” in some situations because “etc.” implies that it is obvious how to continue the list, as in the sentence:

Possible solutions are x = 5, 10, 15, 20, etc.

The “etc.” was appropriate here, as it is obvious that the list would continue as “25, 30, …”. On the other hand, “etc.” would be inappropriate in our previous fruity example because it is not obvious what other items are supposed to be on the list:

Some rather surprising kinds of fruit are considered to be “berries”, e.g. bananas, avocados, pumpkins, etc. [incorrect – what else?]

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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