The abbreviations ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ have a couple of things in common: both are short for Latin terms, and both are now commonly used in academic writing.
However, each has a very specific meaning and they shouldn’t be confused. As such, it’s essential to know how and when to use both in your written work.
E.g. (exempli gratia)
The term ‘e.g.’ is short for exempli gratia, which means ‘for example’. As this implies, we use ‘e.g.’ when introducing an example of some kind:
TV programmes cover numerous genres: e.g. sitcoms, period dramas and documentaries.
Repetitive physical activities (e.g. typing) increase the risk of RSI (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome).
As the examples above show, we usually use ‘e.g.’ either after a colon or within parentheses. When introducing an example in the main text of an essay, it’s better to use a phrase like ‘for example’, ‘such as’ or ‘for instance’:
TV programmes cover numerous genres, such as sitcoms, period dramas and documentaries.
I.e. (id est)
‘I.e.’ is an abbreviation of the Latin term id est, meaning ‘that is’. We therefore use ‘i.e.’ when introducing an explanation of something:
Flora (i.e. plants), fungi and fauna (i.e. animals) are collectively known as biota.
In the example above, for instance, ‘i.e.’ is used to clarify what ‘flora’ and ‘fauna’ mean.
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We also use ‘i.e.’ when clarifying the members of a particular category:
The ‘Fab Four’ refers to the Beatles: i.e. John, Paul, George and Ringo.
This differs from introducing an example because ‘John, Paul, George and Ringo’ is a complete list of Beatles, rather than simply a sample (unless you want to count George Martin, but that’s an argument for a different time).
E.g. or I.e.?
As shown above, whether you should use ‘e.g.’ or ‘i.e.’ depends entirely on what you’re doing:
If introducing an example, use ‘e.g.’ (remember: ‘example’ and ‘e.g.’ both start with ‘e’)
If introducing an explanation or clarification, use ‘i.e.’ (it can help to think of ‘i.e.’ as being short for ‘in explanation’, even if this isn’t the literal translation)