Why is i.e. vs. e.g. such a common source of confusion for writers? I have one big, dusty old word for you: Latin.
The Breakdown of I.e. vs. E.g.
These two abbreviations both come from Latin, a language that very few people study, that even fewer people speak, and in which Shakira has written exactly zero songs. According to the College Board, there were 6,564 brave students who took the Latin AP exam in 2016. By contrast, over 155,000 students took the AP Spanish exam — and that’s just the language portion. Another 24,000 students took the AP Spanish Literature exam.
What I’m saying is this: Many people don’t know how to use i.e. or e.g., because they don’t know what those abbreviations mean. And they don’t know what those abbreviations mean, because few people study Latin anymore, even though a massive chunk of the English language is derived from it. Whoops. That’s why I’m going to teach you conversational Latin in just 482 easy lessons.
Just kidding. We’re going to get all carpe diem up in this blog and learn what i.e. and e.g. mean, what they can do, and how to use them in a sentence. Let’s begin.
What’s the Difference Between i.e. and e.g.?
The abbreviations i.e. and e.g. get confused for one another even more than the Olsen twins do. Here’s a quick guide to what they mean and how they fit into a sentence.
1. I.e. means in other words, and it’s always followed by a comma.
So what does i.e. mean? The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est in Latin, which means that is to say or in other words. When you’re restating something or trying to clarify what you just said, use i.e. Take a look at these examples:
- Miley will be here after work, i.e., sometime between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
- Craig missed the recital because he was sick — i.e., he had Taco Bell for dinner.
- Derek took Vanessa to prom in his mom’s car, i.e., a rusty blue minivan.
- Lisa has a date with Chris Hemsworth this weekend (i.e., she’s watching “Thor: Ragnarok” for the 15th time).
You’ll notice that i.e. is always followed by a comma, which makes sense. If you were to swap in the phrase “in other words,” that would be followed by a comma too.
2. E.g. means for example, and it’s always followed by a comma.
What does e.g. stand for? The abbreviation e.g. is also derived from Latin, and it stands for exempli gratia, or for example. Therefore, you should use e.g. when you’re — wait for it — giving examples. Check it out:
- Haley has a soft spot for ’90s boybands (e.g., Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, O-Town, LFO).
- Rikesh is allergic to most nuts (e.g., cashews, almonds, pecans).
- All of the colleges Frank is considering are known for their basketball programs (e.g., Duke, Kansas, North Carolina).
- Alexis prefers old school video games, e.g., Mega Man, Castlevania, Super Mario Bros. 3, Contra.
Most style manuals agree that e.g. should always be chased by a comma, just like i.e. is. You probably also noticed that i.e. and e.g. are often found in parenthetical insertions or after em dashes. This is because both abbreviations are generally used to clarify something further or provide additional info beyond the main framework of the sentence. You might think of them like add-ons. Ultimately, whether you use a parenthetical insertion or an em dash is a style call.
Ready To Learn More Abbreviations than I.e vs. E.g?
Now that you know how to use e.g. and i.e. in a sentence, let’s expand our horizon with a quick overview of seven more abbreviations — some Latin and some not — that writers use on the regular.
|ca.||circa||approximately||Acid-washed jeans were last on trend ca. 1991. The Burping Pelican Bar and Grill was built ca. 1889. (Note that this common abbreviation is not accepted by AP style editors, who prefer to spell out the preposition. Ex: The Burping Pelican Bar and Grill was built circa 1889.)|
|etc.||et cetera||and other things||We bought a cake, streamers, balloons, etc.The candy counter is stocked with Skittles, Twizzlers, Junior Mints, etc.|
|vs.||versus||against||Lakers vs. Celtics is one of the greatest basketball rivalries of all-time.Comic book fans would love to see a crossover movie that features Iron Man vs. Lex Luthor.For court cases, use v.: Roe v. Wade|
|No.||numero||number (rank)||Tiffany is Sandra Bullock’s No. 1 fan.The Wildcats entered the tournament ranked No. 14.|
|a.m.p.m.||ante meridiempost meridiem||before noonafter noon||Dylan refuses to get out of bed before 11 a.m.We’re meeting in the dining car at 6:30 p.m.|
|N/A||N/A||not applicable||Under “Years of Latin Studied,” Joe wrote N/A because he never studied it.See the Latin column at left? There’s an N/A in there because that column doesn’t apply to this abbreviation, because this abbreviation isn’t derived from Latin.|
|aka||N/A||also known as||My grandma’s favorite actor is O’Shea Jackson, aka Ice Cube. Harry Potter’s nemesis is Voldemort, aka the Dark Lord, aka He Who Must Not Be Named.|
Using I.e. vs. E.g: It Can Be Done!
When used correctly, Latin abbreviations such as i.e. and e.g. can enrich your writing. When used incorrectly, they can make Pliny the Elder roll over in his grave. Do you have any sage wisdom for mastering i.e. vs. e.g.? Can you rattle off Latin verbs velocius quam asparagi coquantur? Let us know in the comments below!