Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Weekly Lesson: Using i.e. and e.g. Correctly

A common mistake I see is interchanging i.e. and e.g.. I find it to be an easily forgivable mistake because most people can figure out what you meant from the context. You might even get away with it. But that doesn't mean you should do it.

The initials i.e. comes from the Latin phrase id est which literally means, "that is," but would best be presented as meaning, "in other words." This usually rephrases what was just written to help the reader better understand.

EXAMPLE: I sing best when the acoustics are good and I'm alone, i.e., in the shower.

In this example I described a place and then better spelled it out for the reader in case they didn't understand what I was hinting at. Note that I didn't list places because I was only trying to describe one place.

However, e.g. comes from the Latin phrase, exempli gratia which literally means, "for the sake of example." This is then followed by a non-exhaustive list of examples.

EXAMPLE: I like to eat breakfast foods for dinner, e.g., pancakes, waffles, and bacon.

In this example I am making a list of examples of breakfast foods. While I like the three breakfast foods listed, I didn't state how I also love oatmeal, sausage, french toast, and cereal for dinner as well. So don't list everything, you are only providing examples to help them better understand what you were trying to convey.

INCORRECT EXAMPLE: I like three girls in my class, e.g., Sarah, Natasha, and Megan.
CORRECTED EXAMPLE: I like three girls in my class: Sarah, Natasha, and Megan.

So all you have to do is brush up on your Latin and it all comes easy, right? Well... no. Here are three tricks I use to remember the difference.

Trick #1

Just think of the first of the two letters. If you can remember that the "i" in i.e. stands for "in other words" and the "e" in e.g. stands for "example" then you are on the road to remembering which one to use at the appropriate time.

Trick #2

If that doesn't do it, here is another trick. Pretend that i.e. stands for "in essence" and e.g. stands for "examples given."

Trick #3

One other tip I've heard is that e.g. sounds like (are you ready for this) "egg sample." Hey now, don't laugh, it is usually the silly tips I remember best!

Keep in Mind

Don't forget that a comma follows i.e. and e.g., and they are in small caps, i.e., little letters. They are abbreviations, so do not forget the periods after each letter. Do this properly and you can impress your friends and coworkers with your written communications, e.g., Email, manuscripts, and sticky notes.


  1. For some reason I find it easiest to just remember the Latin for id est. Reminds me of Spanish es decir (that is to say). But that's probably not helpful to anyone else ;) .

    Thanks again for sharing!