It’s not uncommon to see “i.e.” used where “e.g.” should be used, and vice versa. In fact, it’s one of the most common mistakes writers make. Why? How could such simple abbreviations perplex even the most experienced of writers at times? It could have something to do with the fact that both abbreviations are derived from Latin words.
Continue reading to learn more about these sometimes-puzzling abbreviations.
“i.e.” stands for the Latin phrase “id est” which essentially means “in other words.” Sometimes it’s translated to mean, “that is to say.” The abbreviation is used when a writer is elaborating a claim he or she made, or rephrasing the claim to clarify what he or she wrote, to make it more precise.
- Jumping rope while your shoes are untied is dangerous—i.e., you could severely injure yourself.
- Football is one of the most popular sports in the U.S. (i.e., it earns billions of dollars of revenue each year in ticket sales).
“e.g.” stands for the Latin phrase “exempli gratia” which means “for the sake of example” or simply “for example.” The abbreviation is used to introduce a list of examples. It’s most likely confused with “i.e.” because it’s easy to deliberate that listing more examples is a form of elaborating a statement or making that statement more precise. However, where these two Latin abbreviations are concerned, “e.g.” is used to list examples for something that has already been stated by the writer.
- Melanie always eats fruit for breakfast, e.g., bananas, oranges, apples.
- They always play card games on the weekend (e.g., poker, gin rummy).
Tip: When using “e.g.” you should not put “etc.” at the end of the list.
How to Remember When to Use “i.e.” and When to Use “e.g.”
The best way to remember when to use either abbreviation is to forget the Latin words they represent altogether. Instead, remember what they mean in English. Use these mnemonic devices:
The “i” in “i.e.” stands for “in other words”—remember what the “i” means in English. Or, you could imagine the “i.e.” stands for “in essence” so that there are two English words being represented by each letter in the abbreviation.
The “e” in “e.g.” stands for “example.” – remember that the “e” means “example” in English. This way, you’ll remember that every time you use “e.g.”, you’ll need to provide examples.
Things to Keep in Mind When Using “i.e.” and “e.g.”
- Italicizing the abbreviations is not necessary.
- You should never spell out the abbreviations, using their Latin words (“id est” or “exempli gratia”). Although they’re abbreviations, they’ve been used for so long that they’re now considered a standard part of the English language.
- While the abbreviations are typically used in parenthetical statements, they don’t always have to be placed in parentheses and can be included directly in a sentence. Typically, parenthetical statements with the abbreviations are used in more formal and academic writing, while they’re omitted in other less formal types of writing.
- Different style manuals vary on whether a comma should be located after the abbreviations when they’re used in a sentence. This is perhaps the most contentious rule regarding the use of “i.e.” and “e.g.” Some style guides, such as Chicago Manual of Style, state you should use a comma before and after each abbreviation when they’re used in a sentence. The MLA online style guide simply omits the comma after using the abbreviations in examples they’ve provided. And other style manuals claim either the comma is preferred but not mandatory, or that it should not be included at all. In British form, the comma is almost always omitted.
Do you use these abbreviations often in your writing? Or do you have a different mnemonic device you like to refer to when using “i.e.” and “e.g.”? Please share it with us in the comments.