Have you mastered the difference between i.e. and e.g.? It’s not hard, but it’s one of those things that tends to trip writers up. I.e. is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase id est, which means “in other words.” Meanwhile, e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which translates to “for example.”  Let’s take a closer look at the correct way to use each.

The abbreviation i.e. is used to provide an alternate phrasing that may yield greater clarity if the original phrasing is unclear. You use it when you anticipate that your reader may find a particular topic complex or difficult to follow.

Barring a miracle, she knew that she would only be able to rely on her two feet (i.e., walking) to get back to her house.

By rephrasing, your sentence can become clearer to some, which is a sure fire way to become a more effective writer.

Use e.g., when the concept you’re sharing can be better understood with added examples:

The plaza was littered with remnants of the day’s earlier festivities (e.g., confetti, clever signs, and other parade staples).

What constitutes as an example can really run the gamut depending on the topic or concept you’re discussing. There’s no clear-cut ruling on what qualifies and what doesn’t. All that matters is that your examples help paint a clearer picture in the reader’s mind.

Grammar Laws Governing I.e. and E.g.

With the basic ideas squared away, let’s get into the grammatical nooks and crannies. Here are some guidelines to follow when you’re using i.e., and e.g.:

  • Unless they’re at the beginning of a sentence or in a case-sensitive title (like the title of this blog post), i.e. and e.g. should always be lowercase.
  • As you’ve seen here, a period should be included after each letter in these abbreviations.
  • Use a comma after both abbreviations because most common style guides require them, including the Chicago Manual of Style and the Columbia Guide to Standard American English.
  • Don’t italicize i.e. and e.g. Why? Because no common style guide requires it. The words are ingrained into the American-English language and are widely recognized for what they functionally do.
  • Parentheses or no parentheses? This one’s really up to you, but most usages involve parenthetical statements and consequently require parentheses. However, you should think of i.e. and e.g. in terms of the phrases they’re abbreviating: “in other words” and “for example,” respectively. Include them in your sentence just as you would if you were to actually write out these phrases.
  • When using e.g. or i.e., it’s grammatically acceptable to include a single example or list multiple ones (so long as you punctuate appropriately).

The Final Word

E.g. and i.e. are two Latin abbreviations that get used (and misused) all the time. They have enough in common that they tend to be confusing, even though their meanings are distinct and they therefore can’t be used interchangeably.

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