I.e. and E.g. Duke it Out

Before starting Secretary on the Go, I was the Technical Writer for the software company, TP Systems. I wrote and edited many user guides, and one of the most common mistakes I came across was i.e. and e.g. being misused.

People tend to mix them up, throw them around, interchange them, and really have no idea what each means or which should be used, and when. 

I know this pressing question is on everyone's mind...what do these Latin abbreviations mean?

I.e. stands for id est, which means 'that is'. A general rule to go by: if you can replace the i.e. with 'in other words' or 'in essence', then it works. I.e. is not used for listing examples.

E.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means 'for example'. This term works well for listing examples.

Here are two sentences using the different abbreviations, giving a better idea of the terms:

1. Our pet, Mr. Fluffy Pants (i.e., the slightly crazy, but extremely loveable boy we adopted from the SPCA), loves to curl up near me wherever I am.
2. Our pet cat, Mr. Fluffy Pants, loves to curl up next to me no matter where I am (e.g., on my pillow, on the couch, in the bath, etc.).

Some tips, (e.g.,)...

  • Use a period after each letter because they are abbreviations.
  • The Guide to Grammar and Writing says, 'the comma [following i.e. and e.g.] makes good sense (but is not mandatory).
  • Place a comma before the abbreviation, or introduce it as a complete sentence.


Next time you're typing that memo to your fellow workers, and aren't sure which abbreviation fits, (i.e., makes you sound smarter), go over these simple rules to eliminate any future mistakes, (i.e., using e.g. when i.e. should be used, using i.e. when writing a list of examples, or...oops!).