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In Spanish, we use the word etcétera at the end of an enumeration to imply there are more things to mention, which may (or not) be important, but they will be omitted. Thus, I was fairly surprised yesterday when I was told that finishing enumerations in English using etcetera is improper.

Is there any good replacement for etcetera, something that may be used in a formal register without taking too many words, and not dependent on the context?

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Although “etcetera” apparently is a valid form in English of “et cetera”, the latter form, or its abbreviation “etc.” is more common – jwpat7 Sep 6 '12 at 0:15
When you found out that the usage was "improper," was there any more detail given to you? The usual English spelling is "et cetera" (two words), and it is often abbreviated (as "etc.", or "&c", for example). Furthermore, for an abbreviated list of people, "et al." is used. – Cameron Sep 6 '12 at 0:16
WIth respect to Xavier's comment, yes you can use '...' (ellipses) but they are considered informal, and for language classes (native or foreign) they usually suggest that you try to reword to avoid ellipses. – Mitch Sep 6 '12 at 2:08
@XavierVidalHernández: The three dots are often used when quoting a text, and you leave out a part of the original text that are not relevant in your context. – awe Sep 6 '12 at 9:31
@Xavier: in a list of numbers, an ellipsis is a recognized mathematical notation, which is not the same as using "three evenly spaced dots" to mean et cetera "in formal writing." I don't know what "blah blah blah" refers to, but using "..." in a list within a list might be acceptable, too. My point is, the two are not interchangeable in formal writing, and just because you've seen ellipses in formal articles from time to time doesn't mean that it works just as well as "etc." in all contexts, particularly in formal writing. I stand by my comment ~ you are dishing out unreliable advice. – J.R. Sep 6 '12 at 12:12
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Et cetera, etcetera, etc., &c are frowned on in an academic register, probably because they seem slapdash and offhand: they give the impression that you can't be troubled to do the reader the courtesy of providing a complete enumeration—or worse, are incapable of doing so.*

This of course overlooks the possible discourtesy of requiring the reader to track through a long list of irrelevant details.

The solution is to signal, briefly, that you are truncating your enumeration as a courtesy to the reader. "... and others too numerous to mention" or "...and others which have no place in my argument" are convenient formulae. To assuage those who suspect your competence, or those who really are interested, you may add something on the order of "(for an exhaustive catalogue see Collins, 1978, 183-7.)"

When reiterating a previous enumeration you may avoid odium by replacing etcetera with "and the rest".

These are all very silly, but necessary with painfully solemn audiences; and it may give you some satisfaction to employ them with an absolutely straight face.

*There may also be some leakage from old-fashioned legal usage, where anything less than a complete enumeration of every conceivable item in a particular category, and explicit repetition of that enumeration at every reference to the category, might expose you to adverse judgment respecting any item you omitted.

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