e.g. v. i.e.

People often use i.e. and e.g. as if they are interchangeable. They are similar enough that the confusion is understandable, but they do not mean the same thing, and are not interchangeable. They do have this in common though: They must both be preceded and followed by commas. (The preceding comma can be replaced by a dash or parenthesis.)

I.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin id est, which translates to that is. The term introduces something specific to which the speaker is alluding in the preceding statement. It should be preceded and followed by a comma, as if you’d actually written that is.

E.g. is the abbreviation for the Latin exempli gratia, which translates to for example. The term introduces a generic example or examples from a group of possible choices to which the preceding statement alludes. Like i.e., e.g. should be preceded and followed by a comma, as you’d use them to set off for example if you’d actually written it out.

Examples:

  • I am going to a book signing by my favorite author, i.e., Anne McCaffrey. (I am going to a book signing by my favorite author, that is, Anne McCaffrey. In this case, I use i.e. because Anne McCaffrey is the specific author to whom I refer when I say “my favorite author”.)
  • I enjoy reading adventure stories, e.g., “Inca Gold”. (I enjoy reading adventure stories, for example, “Inca Gold”. In this case, I use e.g. because “Inca Gold” is an example of an adventure story I would read, rather than the only [specific] adventure story I’d read. I could replace “Inca Gold” with the title of a different adventure book without changing the meaning of the sentence.)

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Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 7:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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