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What is the Difference Between i.e. and e.g.?

Writers often confuse i.e. (which means "that is") with e.g. (which means "for example").
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 June 2014
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The differences between i.e. and e.g. are more significant than many think, and misuse of the two abbreviations is common. Both are abbreviations for Latin terms. The first, i.e., is short for id est, which transliterates as "that is" or "in other words." The second, e.g., stands for exempli gratia, which means "for the sake of the example" but is often translated as "for example."

One would expect to see i.e. used to clarify or put in other words something previously stated. The following is the correct usage of i.e.: "Her heart sank as the ship disappeared into the water; i.e., she was devastated." Some writers might use e.g. by mistake here, or even use the incorrect abbreviations i.g. or e.i.

Of course, writers can avoid using either abbreviation completely by substituting "in other words," for i.e. In this example, a person could write "Her heart sank as the ship disappeared into the water. In other words, she was devastated." Since people are likely to confuse i.e. and e.g., it may be wise to come up with a more simple statement.

When a writer wants to make a list of several examples to increase the reader's understanding, he or she should use e.g. For example, one might write: "He only likes games played with a bat; e.g. cricket, softball and baseball." Again this could be simplified by writing "He only likes games played with a bat, such as cricket, softball and baseball."

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People often get confused because they assume i.e. means to list examples, but this is not the case. The statement, "He only likes games played with a bat; i.e., cricket, softball and baseball," is incorrect.

Occasionally, this confusion occurs because a writer wants to sound educated, and referencing Latin terms like i.e. and e.g. can make him or her sound smarter. This is a common mistake made especially by young writers; e.g. college freshman, junior high, and high school students. The misuse obviously creates the opposite of an educated feel; i.e., instructors may think the writer is not very smart.

Instead of perusing the dictionary for hugely impressive words or Latin phrases, the general standard in writing is clear, understandable English. Points should be made without excess vocabulary. Further, it is always better for a writer to use words that he can clearly define rather than to dip into words he thinks he knows the meaning of in order to impress his reader.

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Discuss this Article

burcinc
Post 11

@feruze-- Latin used to be the language of research in Europe. European scholars spoke different languages, but they all also knew Latin and would write in Latin for scholars and students to read their work.

Eventually, Latin was used less and less often but somehow, these abbreviations stuck. I assume scholars were extremely used to them and continued to use them when writing in their native language.

bluedolphin
Post 10

I didn't know what i.e. and e.g. meant until I started graduate school. Academics and professionals use these in their writing all the time to save space.

I don't think that teachers spend enough time on these abbreviations in early schooling. It's kind of sad that I learned their meaning so late.

In fact, in high school and college, I would completely avoid i.e. and e.g. to avoid mistakes. I would use "for example" for e.g. and I wouldn't use i.e. at all. But now, I use them all the time and correctly.

bear78
Post 9

Why are we using abbreviations in English? No wonder eg and ie are so confusing.

anon149722
Post 7

I am from Mindat, Chin State, Myanmar. My students asked me the original meaning of i.e and e.g in this morning, but I didn't know it.

Now, I know. Thanks a million.

anon21394
Post 6

well, I only had to put into the query this: "what is "i.e." -explorer -engineering -intellectual -dial -examination"; but it was all worth the effort.

JerseyJoe
Post 5

Writers, know your reader. While assigned to a military headquarters in Hawaii my job required that I prepare correspondence for the Colonel’s signature. When citing a previous item in the memorandum, it was standard practice to write “earlier in this writing,”. At the time I was taking a Latin course and decided to capitalize on my new found skills when I wrote "ut supra" in Latin which means as stated above. Shortly thereafter the Colonel came running out of his office waving the memorandum in the air and shouting “what the hell is a supra”?

JerseyJoe
Post 4

Albert Joseph in Executive Guide to Grammar, third edition, 1987 had this to say about using abbreviations:

Generally, do not use them. This advice may surprise you, but consider that in ordinary writing abbreviations serve only one purpose: to save space. Usually, in ordinary writing, the abbreviated form of a word does not save enough space to justify the slight awkwardness it creates.

Do use such standard abbreviations as Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Dr.

Per chance, you may receive the following abbreviations of Latin origin.

A D., Latin anno domini, “in the year of our Lord

cf. Latin confer, “compare”

e.g. Latin exempli gratia, “for example”

et al Latin et alii, “and others”

etc. Latin et cetera, “and so forth”

i.e. Latin id est, “that is”

N.B. Latin nota bene, “note well”

P. S. Latin postscribere “to write after”

anon14288
Post 2

I wanted to know the meaning of IE. You not only gave me the answer, I now know the meaning of Eg. Thank you!

malena
Post 1

One common way to remember the difference between e.g., and i.e., is to think of e.g., as standing for "example given" and i.e., as standing for "in effect."

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