Grammar Lesson – i.e. vs. e.g.
In a recent client project, a question arose about the difference between i.e. and e.g. Did you know there was a difference? There is, indeed. They have distinctly different meanings, but are frequently confused by many writers.
But there is a simple way to remember what the abbreviations stand for, and once you know that, it’s easy to use them correctly. They are both abbreviations for Latin terms. Here is a quick tutorial on what they mean, how to remember them and some examples of how to use them correctly:
Abbreviation for id est, which translates to “in other words” or “that is to say.”
Memory trick: You can remember that the “i” in i.e. stands for “in other words” or that i.e. stands for “in essence.”
How to use it: To elaborate, restate in a different way or give further clarification on you have just said.
1. I am a vegetarian (i.e., I do not eat meat). I am clarifying what I mean by being a vegetarian.
2. I fully understand what you are saying (i.e., I am not as dumb as I look). I am restating in a different way.
Stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example.”
Memory trick: You can remember that “e” in e.g. stands for “example” or e.g. stands for “example given.”
How to use it: To introduce one or more examples of what you have stated.
1. I like outdoor activities (e.g., hiking, canoeing). I like many outdoor activities, but I am giving you examples of two of them.
2. It’s important to eat a lot of leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale). There are many types of leafy green vegetables, but I am providing examples of two that you should eat.
Rules for use of i.e. and e.g.:
Always use periods with both, and both are always followed by a comma.
The client copy that started a discussion: Investment growth is nearly double what could have been realized under the previous more traditional (i.e., passive) investment approach.
I suggested that the client change i.e. to e.g. ASSUMING that “passive” was an example of a traditional investment approach. After discussion with the client about the meaning of the sentence, it was clear that “passive” was simply clarifying what was meant by traditional investments. So i.e. was, indeed, the correct usage.
This is also a caveat to not make assumptions about what a writer means. Once you know the intended meaning and have learned what i.e. and e.g. mean, making the right choice and using it correctly will be a snap. Ah, English!