Mixing up these abbreviations is a mistake that many writers make. Even though both are used to clarify something previously mentioned, e.g. and i.e. have two very different meanings.
e.g. is the abbreviation for the Latin term exempli gratia “for the sake of an example, or simply “for example.” it can also take the place of “including”. Think of what precedes e.g. as a category, and what follows are a few things in that category. It can also be used to lead off a parenthetical statement. Here are several sample sentences: I like Asian foods, e.g., Japanese and Chinese. There are many words to describe a good feeling (e.g., wonderful, fine, happy).
i.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin term id est “it is” or more commonly “that is”. it can also take the place of “namely” or “in other words”. It’s used to paraphrase, clarify, specify, or further define something. It can also be used to lead off a parenthetical statement. Here are several sample sentences: Of all the Asian foods, I have two favorites, i.e., Japanese and Chinese. There are only a few specific things that make John happy (i.e., his family, his home, and his hobby).
How to keep them straight
Here are a few quick and easy ways to remember the difference between them.
- Think of e.g. as standing for “example given”. Since e.g. begins with ‘e’, think “example”. Pronounce e.g. (sounds like egg) then think “egg sample” (get it? example).
- Remember that i.e. begins with ‘i’, which stands for “in other words. Think of i.e. as standing for “in essence”, “in effect:, or “I explain”.
If you’re still having a problem with these seemingly look-alike terms, you can always skip the abbreviations and write them out: “for example” and “that is”. Also, if you think your readers might get these terms mixed up, and misread your writing, choose another way of expressing your thought.
- Over the years, there have been a number of ways of writing these two phrases, but the current “preferred” standard (The Chicago Manual of Style) is “e.g.,” and “i.e.,”.
- To indicate that e.g. or i.e. are starting a separate clause, you can either insert a comma before the terms or use parentheses.
- It’s also not usual to italicize these terms, even though their origin is a foreign language (Latin).
- When using i.e., the list that follows is usually short. When using e.g., the list may be longer, but don’t end with “etc.”
- It’s not usual to start a sentence with these abbreviations, but if you do, the first letter needs to be capitalized (E.g., and I.e.,) which look awkward.
There are a lot of common abbreviations in circulation, but these are two of the most used and perhaps most misunderstood. If you remember some of the guidelines above, you should not have any problems.
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