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. Meaning and Example
Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviated Latin phrases.
I.e. is short for id est which means “in essence.”Let’s hear it for dead languages! 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.
E.G. Meaning and Example
E.g., on the other hand, is short 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 an exhaustive list of the adventurous activities that Frank enjoys. It’s just a few examples.
Keep I.E. vs. E.G. Straight
If it helps you keep i.e. vs. e.g. straight, I always remember them by 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.
Now go forth, and never make this mistake again.
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.
Post your practice in the comments when you’re finished, and leave feedback for your fellow practicers.
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.