I.E. vs. E.G.: How to Keep Them Straight

by Liz Bureman | 40 comments

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We all have our pet peeves when it comes to writing. Maybe you hate the Oxford comma. Maybe you loathe the misuse of the ellipsis.

As an editor, I'm supposed to have a lot of writing pet peeves, but one of my biggest is the interchanging of e.g. vs. i.e. I'm here to tell you once and for all that the two are not the same.

I.e. versus e.g.: How to Keep Them Straight

Look, i.e. and e.g. might not show up in your everyday text messages, but they are definitely still a part of formal writing such as academic essays, and I've even seen them show up a time or two on social media posts. Maybe after today, you can bring their correct usage back into vogue in your circles!

I.E. Meaning

Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviated Latin phrases.

I.e. is short for the Latin term id est which means “in essence.” In essence, i.e. indicates a finite list:

Susan believes that Frank's activities will end poorly, i.e., in serious injury or death.

In this example, i.e. indicates to us that Susan thinks Frank is either going to kill himself or do some grievous bodily harm to himself through his actions. No happy endings here in her mind.

I.E. Example: How to Use I.E. in a sentence

Jim is allergic to some citrus fruits, i.e. lemons and grapefruit.

In this example, the i.e. indicates that Jim is only allergic to lemons and grapefruit. 

You'll use formal prose in this class for the two kinds of papers, i.e. scholarly writing and scientific writing for your lab reports. 

E.G. Meaning

E.g., on the other hand, is the Latin abbreviation for exempli gratia, or “for example.”

Essentially, e.g. is used in place of “for example,” and is used to introduce a non-finite set of examples. See below:

Frank enjoys adventurous activities, e.g., riding alligators bareback and barefoot downhill skiing.

Since we have used e.g. in this instance, we know this is not a comprehensive list of the adventurous activities that Frank enjoys. It's just a few examples.

E.G. Example: How to Use e.g. in a Sentence

The Marvel Universe is full of super heroes, e.g. Black Panther, Captain America, and Black Widow. 

Notice how this is just a sampling of the Marvel heroes offered for example—not an exhaustive or complete list. That's why we use e.g.

Gina loves all outdoor activities, e.g. rock climbing and camping.  

Keep I.E. vs. E.G. Straight

I.E. vs. E.G. cheatsheet

Try this fun trick as a memory device to keep i.e. vs. e.g. straight: use their first letter. E.g. starts with E as in for Example. I.e. = I for In other words. See if that helps.

On a final note, most style guides agree that a comma should follow both i.e. and e.g., as it does in both examples above.

Whether you use them in academic writing or your next social media post, you now know which one to use in context. Now go forth, and never make this mistake again in your English language pursuits.

Do you have trouble keeping i.e. vs. straight in your writing? Let me know in the comments.


Write for fifteen minutes about a character's hobbies and pastimes. As you write, work on using i.e. vs. e.g. correctly to give more specific examples of things he/she enjoys doing, and to describe his/her friends and family's reactions to those chosen hobbies.

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Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.


  1. Tom Wideman

    Thanks for clearing this up for me! My hope is to start using this correctly in my future work, e.g., my upcoming novel and in my blogs. If I continued to write this incorrectly, my writing career wouldn’t get very far, i.e. never get past the first editor.

  2. Snowy

    Billy has always been a peculiar boy. That’s what anyone who’s ever met him will say about him anyway. It’s not only the external things in him, like the scar on the right side of his forehead, but the smaller details he might show without notice. E.g., the way he looks at someone when listening, the way he squints his eyes in order to follow with what the other is saying, the silent stare about him that might be mistaken for condescendence and how he nods, as if he barely understands any of what is said.
    What he likes to do in his spare time doesn’t do much help. Even his hobbies don’t really match with what kids his age like to do. Instead of riding his bicycle by the river with his 11-year-old classmates, he locks himself in his room listening to Punk Rock music, reading hardcore science fiction, or struggling with the decision of using either pencils or brushes for his ‘masterpiece’.
    Ironically, Billy’s encouragement for being an introvert/outcast/genius came from his older brother and sister. His parents, though, don’t like what their youngest son turned out to be. His father never says it to his face but according to him, Billy will eventually wind up, ‘sleeping while the rest of the world is up on his feet’, i.e., his imagination will starve him to death.

    • Nancy

      Good story. It was so believable, I thought you were going to end with a famous name. People could probably add them now, i.e. this could apply to many people.

    • MarianneVest

      I agree with Nancy Billy’s story could be that of many famous artists or inventors. I have never heard that saying.

    • Snowy

      Um, thank you. Yes, I am aware I made it a bit general. I was more focused on the practice rather than how my character might sound like. Thanks again for the replies. This being my first comment and all, you can imagine me being nervous.

    • Yvette Carol

      Snowy you had me hooked, i.e., I couldn’t stop reading!

    • Claudia Peel

      Hi Snowy. I don’t know that E.g. at the beginning of your fourth sentence works. I would be inclined to spell it out – For example, – instead of using the abbreviated form. I think your use of i.e. in your final sentence works well.

  3. Bethany Suckrow

    This is so good! I think I have been guilty of this switcharoo on more than one occasion. Joe, your tip is really good for remembering which to use and when.

  4. Nancy

    At midnight John returned to his cozy Cape Cod house to find the place ransacked, i.e., he had been robbed. Shelves were cleared, cabinets left open, couch pillows tossed into corners. He quickly surveyed the mess to determine his loss. Stepping around overturned chairs and broken knickknacks, he made his way to his office/museum. His heart beating faster with every step.

    Wheh! The robbers were an unsophisticated lot, stupid even. They had taken electronics, e.g. a plasma TV, Bose radio, camera, Xbox. But they completely overlooked his invaluable fossil collection, i.e. irreplaceable pieces of history. Not only did they remain intact, but they remained in place. He guessed the vandals were too creeped out to touch them. On the shelf behind his missing computer, he spotted his amazing complete crinoids, i.e., marine animals so important to the Paleozoic period. Next to it still sat his partial dinosaur bone embedded in a beautiful piece of rock. To his right, on the top shelf of his étagère sat his complete collection of monkey skulls. And to his left stones holding fish skeletons seemed untouched.

    He rushed to his bedroom hoping against hope that his other pieces had survived. They had. “Wow,” he said, “those were some dumb thugs.” After locking and securing his house he climbed into bed and gazed across the room to his shadow box of mastodon teeth. If those teeth could talk what stories they’d tell, i.e. about history, and not about events in this room.

    Peace was restored. He turned off the lava lamp on his night stand, deciding to wait until morning to call the police. He could ignore this mess for a few more hours. N.B., he wasn’t married, i.e. he probably never would be. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    • MarianneVest

      That’s good. I can really imagine thieves leaving all of those “skeletons”. You also illustrate the use of i.e. and e.g. very well.

    • Yvette Carol

      Ha! The lava lamp at the end was a nice touch.

    • sherpeace

      I don’t see the lava lamp. ;-( . . .

    • Elena Brabant

      I remember them by “I mEan” and “EGzample”.

    • sherpeace

      I don’t see the cartoon. ;-( . . .

  5. Yvette Carol

    Aden had spent so much time alone growing up, he’d had to become self-sufficient, i.e., he could play elaborate games for hours without getting bored. Yet he was not an anti-social child. Far from it. He hungered for company his own age. But in their absence he had become resourceful out of necessity. He had developed a proficiency for building things, e.g., jigsaws, blocks, clay sculptures, paper planes, kites, and simple furniture.

  6. allyn211

    The way I keep them separate is like this: e.g. = example given; i.e. = in explanation.

    • Joe Bunting

      Nice solution, Allyn. Thanks!

  7. Carrie Lynn Lewis

    LOL, Liz. “…go forth, and never make this mistake again.”

    I wasn’t aware that this was a problem but I’m glad for the clarification.

  8. Bob

    I have a simpler view that works for me. Both are, in essence, indicating a choice from possible alternatives. When there is a context or an intended perspective I.e. Is usually my choice. When there are a variety of good choices and a desire to encourage thought on the reader, e.g. is what I use. This takes i.e. and e.g. at their literal meaning.

    If I were writing a piece on the outcomes of drinking too much shortly after an incident of a DUI traffic fatality, I would write something like, “there are too many dangerous outcomes of excessive during, i.e, DUI fatalities.” But without a context I may want people to consider other outcomes as well. “Excessive drinking can lead to harm in many ways, e.g., falling resulting in concussion, broken bones or worse, or injury to innocent others.”

    I.e. It is – your choice is apparent.
    E.g. Example by grace – your choice for your help to the reader.

  9. Kenneth M. Harris

    Here I go again and I’m sorry. I don’t remember ever using i.e. and e.g. Now, I might use the etc., if there is a list and I’m too lazy to write a list. However, it’s always good to learn something new. You never stop learning. I’m a living witness to this. I am learning so much with the write practice. KEN

  10. concordriverlady

    Annah’s pastimes were all related to the area of fine arts, e.g., painting, sculpting, and etching. Several of her friends found her hobbies boring and tedious, with a few even adding that someday she’ll end up slumped over her easel as unresponsive as the statues she created, i.e., comatose, or, heaven forbid, dead!

  11. Gigi J Wolf

    What kind of trouble are you causing in Denver? Should Homeland Security be apprised? That is not far from us; we’ve got enough trouble here in Sin City. I appreciate the semicolon, too; I use it ALL the time. There has been talk of trying to eliminate it; those talking are the same ones trying to eradicate the penny. Little things mean a lot.

    Thank you for this info; I knew at a visceral level about i.e., but just used eg. like that. Always good to know how ignorant I am!

  12. FritziGal

    Your explanation of i.e. and e.g. is the best I’ve heard, concise and easily understood. There are also certain words that could use some clearer defining, things like: effect and affect. That one still stymies me from time to time. Love The Write Practice! Keep doing what you’re doing. And I’ll keep reading. – FG

  13. Robert V Frazier

    Once my boss and I were in a meeting, going over the notes I’d written about some programming changes I’d done. He was all set to do a Google search to see which was more “popular”, i.e. or e.g. I had to point out that the two are not interchangeable because they mean different things, so which is used (or misused) more often is irrelevant. I keep them straight by remembering what they stand for in Latin, and what the two Latin phrases mean.

  14. Robert V Frazier

    Another demonstration:

    2 + 2, i.e., 4

    Odd numbers, e.g., 5, 13, 57

    I.e. indicates identity or equality of two things.

    E.g. indicates some (but not all) elements or subsets of a set.

    • Joe Bunting

      Nice example, Robert! I like it!

  15. Rhonda Walker

    Great lesson for me. I’ve never been quite sure. Question though. I was taught that either of the two was supposed to be enclosed within parentheses. True/not true? My personal teeth grinders are those who do not use “it” and “it’s” correctly. Drives me nuts!

    • Joe Bunting

      You can use them in parenthetically if the situation demands, but it’s not necessary. Think of them as any other abbreviation, which don’t automatically need to be placed in parentheses.

      Yes, it’s/its is bad but honestly I make that mistake frequently, not because I don’t know the difference but because I just type them automatically. So if you see it’s when it should be its in a post, have mercy on me! Then, of course, send a nice note telling me to fix it. 🙂

    • Rhonda Walker

      Joe, say it isn’t so! 🙂 I thought you were perfect (deep sigh) However, I will make an exception for you. I don’t know why “its” and “there/their” disturb me so much. I’m certainly far from perfect myself. Those words just stop me in my tracks. Will have to work on getting over myself.

  16. Allyson Vondran

    I have never really had experience with the I.e and E.g but this is very helpful. Although this is very useful information to have!

    • Joe Bunting

      Great, Allyson. I’m so glad it was helpful!

  17. JujuBee

    I’m really excited about this presentation of the two most incorrectly used abbreviations. I have almost always used i.e., and felt reasonably correct. However, I was always a little uneasy about which to use where. why I never looked it up, I don’t know, but now I can feel good about using these correctly. I dislike it when I read something and see what should have been something other than the author used. Right no, ,as I am moving around the house, I’m testing my usage of i.e., or e.g.. Thank you, Liz

    • Joe Bunting

      Awesome, JujuBee! I’m glad to hear this was helpful. I started using these ALL the time after Liz first explained the difference to me and I felt I could master the difference.

  18. dduggerbiocepts

    Being the argumentative type, I don’t see how “serious injury or death” aren’t non-specific “examples” of how Will might end – there being different forms and kinds of each. Additionally, the list of two specific activities – riding and skiing – in your second example is a finite list limited to two specific examples in this case – not a non-finite list. I would consider it a non-finite list if it read “skiing, riding, and many others.”

    In your first example I would argue that i.e. or e.g. would seem equally appropriate. In your second example for the correct usage of “e.g.” you use a finite list of specific examples which you said should be a non-finite list. (This raises the question as to whether a non-finite list might take a non-finite amount of paper to list it upon.) One of my biggest problems with language and grammar is that there are far too many rules that really aren’t needed, some open to wide and varied, but equally logical interpretations and that they are often poorly defined in their best cases (as herein IMO). Not unexpectedly – confusion, avoidance and poor usage generally follows. I say let dead languages (who by the way have very different structure and grammatical rules themselves ) and their abbreviations stay equally dead. I think you might come up with better examples for both i.e. and e.g.

    • Joe Bunting

      That’s true, e.g. would work fine there as well. Thanks for the feedback.

  19. Mark Noldy

    Is it also proper to use e.g. and i.e. parenthetically? “Considering the start up costs (e.g., franchising, legal fees, insurance, etc.)…”

    • Joe Bunting

      Yep! We use it that way all the time.

  20. JujuBee

    I’m going to see my new twin Great Granddaughters, e.g., Olivia and Sydney. Is this what I would use in this instance, or would I not use either but to just spell it out? This is a true statement—they are 4 days old and three pounds each. I’m so excited.



  1. When do you use i.e., and when do you use e.g., and what do they mean? « My Blog - [...] https://thewritepractice.com/i-e-versus-e-g-how-to-keep-them-straight/ [...]
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