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Difference Between i.e. and e.g

oxford-dictionaryEnglish is a complex language with a myriad of rules and standards. Because English evolved from Latin, Celtic and French and borrows words and phrases from any language it encounters, the exceptions to its grammatical rules are more numerous than the rules themselves. When using informal, spoken English, anything goes. However, when one is writing in English, especially in a business or academic context, one should look up the correct usage of any unfamiliar word or term so as to eliminate the risk of misusing it.

One commonly misused facet of English is the abbreviations i.e. and e.g. Both these abbreviations are Latinate in origin and are used to expand on illustrations. However, they are often used interchangeably or altogether incorrectly.

i.e.

  • The direct translation of i.e. is ‘id est,’ or ‘that is’ in Latin.
  • It is used to explicate or rephrase the statement which it precedes.
  • A trick to remember how to use i.e. is to think of it as an acronym for ‘in essence’ or ‘in effect.’ You can also think of it as meaning ‘in other words.’

    Example: ‘Everyone who emerged from the pond was blue and shivering (i.e., the water was cold).

e.g.

  • The direct translation of e.g. is ‘exempli gratia,’ or ‘for the sake of example’ in Latin.
  • It is used to enumerate possibilities or examples for a previously stated term.
  • A trick to remember how to use e.g. is to think of it as an acronym for ‘example given.’

Example: ‘The mansion was overflowing with priceless treasures (e.g., Rembrandts and Ming vases).

Once one ascertains the difference between i.e. and e.g., there are still some rules to learn for their correct usage within a paragraph of formal writing. If one is writing informally, i.e. and e.g. can be used both inside and outside of parenthesis. However, in formal writing, i.e. and e.g. must only be used inside of parenthesis.

i.e. and e.g. always appear in the lower case, even when they begin a sentence. Though, if one is writing formally, i.e. and e.g. will always be inside of parenthesis and therefore never begin a sentence in the first place.

Finally, the letters in i.e. and e.g. are always followed by periods. The final period should have a comma after it. This sentence is an example of the proper punctuation for i.e. or e.g. (i.e., how best to use the abbreviation in formal writing).


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