Occasionally, we come across the abbreviations i.e. and e.g., but what do they mean, and what is the difference between them? How do grammar rules apply?
These two terms originate in the Latin language and are just two of the many Latin phrases that have survived into modern language.
Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviations for longer Latin phrases, so one of the smartest ways to memorize these terms is to learn what they stand for.
If you speak any of the Latin languages, you’ll have the upper hand in memorizing i.e. and e.g. And if you don’t speak any Latin languages, then here are some tips to help you better understand these two terms.
That is (i.e.)
Id est means “that is.” It can also mean in other words. According to our grammar rules, when this term is abbreviated, it is always written with periods between and after the letters: i.e., and it should always be followed by a comma, and then the remainder of the sentence. It often acts as a conjunction, linking two separate phrases or ideas together. It is interesting to note that the similar phrase il est is still fully alive in the French language, meaning “he is” or “it is.”
I am writing, i.e., I am putting my thoughts into words on paper.
I am writing, that is, I am putting my thoughts into words on paper.
For Example (e.g.)
Exempli gratia means “for the sake of example,” but we often construe it to simply mean “for example.” As with i.e., it is always written with periods between and after the letters when it is abbreviated. It is usually followed by a comma, but there may be exceptions based on context.
There are many Latin words and phrases that still exist in modern languages, e.g., carpe diem, which means “seize the day.”
There are many Latin words and phrases that still exist in modern languages, for example, carpe diem, which means “seize the day.”
Avoid a Mix-up: Tips for Remembering i.e. and e.g.
Abbreviated or not, these terms are not interchangeable. They simply do not mean the same thing. Still, they are often used in ways that are confusing, and since they look similar, they are easy to confuse. How to remember the difference?
These two abbreviations share the letter e. So, we must use the other letters, the i and the g, respectively, to remember which is which. The trick is to just remember one of them, and the easiest of the two is i.e., or that is.
If you can associate the i in i.e. with the word is, you’ll be fine, because e.g. doesn’t have the letter i, and neither does the phrase for example.
i.e. = that is
e.g. = for example
Another popular memory trick involves the made-up word eggsample, which starts with e.g. and sounds a lot like example (as in “for example” or “for eggsample”), which, of course, is the meaning of e.g.).
Can you think of any other ways to easily remember i.e. and e.g.? Which Latin terms do you struggle with? Are there any grammar rules that confuse you? Leave a comment to share your thoughts or ask questions.
“There are many Latin words and phrases which still exist in modern languages, e.g., carpe diem, which means seize the day.”
It’s like a Latin sandwich! Great post. Stuff I should probably have known, but never bothered to remember.
This is a good point. I don’t normally use “e.g.” Now I have to start thinking about using “i.e.” more. The thought of “Internet Explorer” associated with that abbreviation saddens me. 😉
The other latin abbreviation that I like is “n.b.” or Nota Bene. When I isolate a note in a seperate paragraph, it implies that it needs a special attention.
I’d never heard of “n.b.” before. What does Nota Bene translate to?
When working with pilots in interpreting their union contract, our company’s contract expert told us to interpret i.e. as “in effect,” mening that whatever followed the i.e. was the only thing that the contract was referring to.
He also said that e.g. could be interpreted as “example given,” meaning that the contract gives examples here, but that those are not the only possibilities.
Hope that helps!
A. Caleb Hartley
Hey great post! It’s amazing how we use these little abbreviations all the time without actually thinking about where they come from. I tend to use “e.g.” and “i.e.” interchangeably, even though it’s improper to do so. Now that I know the proper use for both, I won’t make that mistake again!
The only other Latin abbreviation I’m familiar with is AD, which means “In the year of our Lord”.
This is totally one of my pet peeves when seeing people mess this one up. I’m pointing to this post from now on when I see it used wrong 😛
Very good information, Melissa. I’ve never really thought about it before, but I guess I’ve avoided using these abbreviations. 🙁
Thanks for clarifying for us. I’m stumbling this post right now!
@Rhett: There’s a lot of Latin in our language. I’d love to study Latin; it is a great way to gain better understanding of linguistics and etymology.
@Rudy: I too rarely use e.g. because I tend to write out “for example.” I do use i.e. from time to time.
@Erik: According to Wikipedia, Nota Bene means “note well,” i.e. “pay attention,” often used to draw reader’s attention to a side note.
@A. Caleb: Those are great examples! In effect and example given…I’ll have to try and remember those! Thanks!
@Brad: I think a lot of people use these interchangeably, which is one of the reasons I wanted to post on this topic.
@Trisha: Thanks! It’s not a pet peeve for me. In fact, there’s a good chance mixing these up might escape my notice unless I am actively proofreading.
@Michele: Thanks for the Stumble!
I don’t know any Latin (except the odd phrase like Carpe Diem), and while I know the difference in usage between i.e. and e.g., I never actually knew what they stood for (grin). So, thanks!
@Deb: Thank you! I wasn’t sure this post would be of much interest to anyone, but it seems people do like to know these things and that makes me warm and fuzzy inside.
@Melissa: Thank you for putting your time and effort into compiling a clear and concise way to interpret “i.e.” and “e.g.”
Excellent! I am always confusing these i.e. and e.g. !
Me too! When I proofread, I read “e.g.” as “for eggsample” to see if it fits. Love that little trick!
I enjoy your grammar refreshers (and Ali’s course).
How bout dealing sometime with cliches, particularly how to recognize what is and is not a cliche.
I know about dictionaries that list lots of examples, but how do you decide on “fence-sitting” possibilities?
I’ve been avoiding that topic for a while because I feel it’s subjective and there are times when a cliche works well. In other words, my whole post would basically be telling writers they need to use their best judgment on a case-by-case basis. As a rule, I say avoid cliches but if it’s the only way to convey your message or if you’re writing in a style/form/project in which cliches are appropriate, then go for it.
I wonder how it became customary to abbreviate an expression as short as “il est.” Why bother? You only save three keystrokes!
Great observation, Brian! I hadn’t thought about it with “il est” but I have thought about it with other words (like okay = o.k. or OK, which only saves two keystrokes). Actually, I don’t think it has anything to do with keystrokes since many abbreviations were born before the computer and typewriter. It would be interesting to research the history of abbreviating words and phrases that are already short.
Not gonna lie, I didn’t know that. But happy to learn it! Thanks for sharing:)
Only the wise know what they don’t know and are unafraid to admit it. Keep learning!