9th February 2016
Common Mistakes: E.g. vs. I.e.
Many people treat “e.g.” and “i.e.” as interchangeable, recklessly overlooking that they’re in fact abbreviations of completely different Latin terms.
You should therefore try to avoid confusing them, especially in academic or other formal writing, where even minor errors can leave a poor impression on your reader.
This post looks at what “e.g.” and “i.e.” actually mean, as well as how to use them in your work.
“E.g.” (exempli gratia)
The abbreviation “e.g.” stands for “exempli gratia,” which literally translates as “for the sake of example” or simply “for example.” As this might suggest, we use “e.g.” when introducing an example:
I am a big fan of fruit: e.g., apples, bananas and pears.
There are many forms of popular music (e.g., pop, rock, soul and hip-hop).
Moreover, “e.g.” is only used to introduce one or more examples of something, not a complete list of everything that falls within the category.
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“I.e.” (id est)
The term “i.e.” is an abbreviation of the phrase “id est,” meaning “that is,” another way of saying “in other words.” As such, we should only use “i.e.” to introduce an explanation or clarification of something (not an example):
I have a terrible migraine: i.e., a very severe headache.
Here, the information following “i.e.” is a clarification of what a “terrible migraine” is. As well as providing additional detail, “i.e.” can also be used to explicate the members of a group or category:
The Three Stooges (i.e., Moe, Larry and Curly) were most popular in the mid-twentieth century.
This differs from using “e.g.” at the start of a list, as the idea is to identify all members of the group, not to introduce an example.
“E.g.” or “i.e.”?
Hopefully, now that you know what these abbreviations mean, you’ll have a clearer idea of how to use them. However, if you’re still unsure, here’s a rule of thumb to help:
- E.g. starts with an “e” just like “example,” so “e.g.“ is used when introducing an example
- I.e. starts with an “i” just like “in other words,” so “i.e.” is used when introducing a clarification
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