You may not have learned Latin in school, but you probably use the Latin abbreviations “e.g.” and “i.e.” on a regular basis. Do you know if you’re using them correctly?
You don’t have to look too far to see people using these abbreviations interchangeably. The truth, though, is that “e.g.” and “i.e.” mean different things.
“E.g.” stands for “exempli gratia.” It’s an abbreviation that you use when you’re providing examples of something. As an example, let’s take a look at the following sentence:
“Marnie measured a variety of outcomes (e.g., knowledge, attitudes, and skills).”
This sentence tells us that Marnie measured several outcomes and provides examples of some of them. In particular, “knowledge,” “attitudes,” and “skills” are all examples of the outcomes; they represent some of the outcomes that Marnie measured but not all of them. Based on the use of “e.g.” in the sentence, we know that Marnie measured outcomes other than “knowledge,” “attitudes,” and “skills.”
In comparison, “i.e.” stands for “id est” and means “that is.” It’s an abbreviation that you use when you’re explaining something or providing more details about it. Let’s see how using “i.e.” in place of “e.g.” changes the Marnie sentence:
“Marnie measured a variety of outcomes (i.e., knowledge, attitudes, and skills).”
This sentence tells us that Marnie measured several outcomes and specifies what these outcomes were. In particular, it tells us that Marnie measured three outcomes: “knowledge,” “attitudes,” and “skills.” Because “i.e.” is used to signal an explanation rather than a list of examples, we know that the three outcomes listed in the sentence are the only ones that Marnie measured.
Note that when used in a sentence, both “e.g.” and “i.e.,” are immediately followed by a comma. See these examples:
- “We sell freshly baked cupcakes in a variety of flavours (e.g., vanilla, chocolate chip, mint chocolate, and salted caramel).”
- “Dave has delivered training sessions in five countries (i.e., the US, Canada, the UK, Spain, and France).”
Notice how in some cases, like the Marnie sentence, you may be able to use either “e.g.” or “i.e.” depending on what you’re trying to say. In other cases though, like the Dave sentence above, only one of the two abbreviations works. Specifically, the Dave sentence indicates that Dave delivered training sessions in five countries. There are also five countries listed in parentheses. Because the two numbers match, we know that the countries listed in parentheses aren’t just examples of some of the places where Dave delivered the sessions. They are the places where he delivered them.
Note that you can change the Dave sentence so that only three countries are listed in parentheses:
“Dave has delivered training sessions in five countries (i.e., the US, Canada, and the UK).”
Because there are now only three countries listed in parentheses, we need to swap the “i.e.” for an “e.g.” Why? Because the countries listed in parentheses are now only some of the five countries where Dave delivered the sessions:
“Dave has delivered training sessions in five countries (e.g., the US, Canada, and the UK).”
Is it a bit odd to skimp on detail and provide examples of only three countries when you have only five countries to spell out in total? It is, but think about the situation you would be in if Dave had delivered training sessions in 26 countries. In this case, you may want to provide a few examples of countries in parentheses but not list all 26:
“Dave has delivered training sessions in 26 countries (e.g., the US, Canada, and the UK).”
To summarize, you use “e.g.” when providing examples and “i.e.” when defining or explaining something. Need a hack to remember the difference? Remember that “e.g.” represents eggsamples.
Curious about the difference between other commonly misused words? Check out our post on the difference between “between” and “among.”
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