Are you asking yourself, “E.g. vs. i.e.? Aren’t they the same?” Well, you’re definitely not alone. Professional editors and proofreaders will tell you that misuses of these abbreviations are among the most common errors they see. But no worries! This article will clear up the i.e. vs. e.g. confusion once and for all.
When to use which
The key to the e.g. vs. i.e. dilemma is knowing what each actually means. For starters, both abbreviations come from Latin. I.e. stands for id est, which basically means “that is” or “in other words.” E.g. stands for exempli gratia, or “for example” in English. For those non-Latin scholars among us, let’s make this even easier:
Use e.g. whenever “for example” would also work.
Johnny likes to eat junk food (e.g., pizza, nachos, ice cream) at every meal.
By using e.g. in the above example, we know that pizza, nachos, and ice cream are examples of junk foods that Johnny likes to eat, but they are not necessarily the only junk foods he likes to eat.
When your goal is to clarify by rephrasing your words, use i.e.
Johnny likes to eat junk food at every meal (i.e., breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
You’ll notice that the phrases “in other words” or “in essence” could be swapped out for i.e. without changing the meaning. In this case, we understand that breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all the meals at which Johnny likes to eat junk food.
Now that you know the difference between i.e. and e.g., you also recognize that if you use them improperly, you change the meaning of your sentence.
Consider these two examples:
The CDC recommends influenza vaccinations for people who may have compromised immune systems (e.g., children and the elderly).
The CDC recommends influenza vaccinations for people who may have compromised immune systems (i.e., children and the elderly).
In the first one, we understand (hopefully, by now!) that vaccinations are recommended for anyone with compromised immune systems and that children and the elderly are just examples of people who may have compromised immune systems, though others may fit that description as well and should also get vaccinated.
In the second example, we are led to believe that children and the elderly are the only ones who may have compromised immune systems. This is an example of improper use of i.e.
Keeping it simple
For e.g., think “eggzample.”
For i.e., think “in essence” or “in other words.”
So, to reiterate, e.g. opens up more options; i.e. narrows them down.
How to properly write i.e. and e.g.
Here are some dos and don’ts about how to write e.g. and i.e.:
DO follow both i.e. and e.g. with a comma. (Most style guides prescribe this, so it’s safest to always write them that way.)
DON’T follow them with “etc.” (If you feel the urge to use this additional word, it’s a sure indication that you should be using e.g. And even so, the “etc.” is understood.)
DO follow each letter in these abbreviations with a period.
DON’T italicize them. (They’ve been around long enough that they’re recognized as part of the English language.)
DO use them only in notes and parentheticals when engaging in formal prose (as opposed to, say, this blog post). In such cases, you should spell out their meanings in running text: Use “for example” (e.g.,) or “that is” (i.e.).
The most important thing to remember about e.g. vs. i.e. is that they are both just abbreviations of words (i.e., you are free to use them in the same way you would the words they represent—e.g., “that is” and “for example”).
See what I did there? We hope that by following the tips in this article, you’ll feel confident about using these abbreviations to bring clarity and accuracy to your writing!
Like this post? Check out this one on the difference between lay and lie or this one on well and good.