Grammar i.e. vs. e.g.: How to Use i.e. or e.g. |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

i.e. vs. e.g.: How to Use i.e. or e.g.

We’ve probably all either seen or written the abbreviations i.e. and e.g. Some of us may have understood them, and some of us may have not been sure.

For example, perhaps we’ve come across a statement such as:

Please bring something to the potluck dinner (i.e., salad, appetizer, dessert).

The context of that statement doesn’t interfere with our ability to receive the central idea from it. But is the use of i.e. precise? Let’s discuss that.

i.e. versus e.g.

i.e. and e.g. are both abbreviations of Latin expressions.

id est (i.e.): “that is to say; in other words; by which I mean”

exemplī grātiā (e.g.): “for example”

The abbreviation i.e. restates or fully lists what precedes it. It identifies, amplifies, clarifies, or specifies to remove all doubt about what the previous statement is saying.

The abbreviation e.g. gives one or a few examples from a larger grouping. It helps to illustrate a preceding thought but does not restate, list, or summarize it.

In our potluck example above, we can safely assume that the dinner selections might include more than just salads, appetizers, and desserts (i.e., the foods cited represent a larger group as opposed to the full list). The correct reference therefore would be e.g.

Note that because we are identifying partial information by way of example, we would not include etc. with an e.g. reference.

Correct: Please bring something to the potluck dinner (e.g., salad, appetizer, dessert).
Incorrect: Please bring something to the potluck dinner (e.g., salad, appetizer, dessert, etc.).

Mnemonic Devices

As we’ve touched on, remembering that i.e. stands for id est and e.g. stands for exemplī grātiā is one way to recall the difference between the abbreviations.

Another memory device can be to note that the est in id est means “is” (part of “that is”). For remembering the proper use of e.g., you might recall the exemplī meaning “example” in “for example.”

If the Latin devices don’t suit you, another technique can be to think of i.e. as “in effect” and e.g. as “example given.”

i.e. and e.g.: Punctuation Usage

In formal writing in the U.S., a leading tendency is to follow the abbreviations with a comma and enclose the text in parentheses.

Examples
Macy said she’d join us at the tavern at 6:30 p.m. (i.e., 7:00 in Macy time).

Please bring something to the potluck dinner (e.g., salad, appetizer, dessert).

In recent years, some editors have allowed the comma to be omitted. This might be seen more often in less-formal contexts such as marketing content.

Examples
You’ll love how your face feels with the new Guide-n-Glide razor (i.e. handsome, fresh, and clean).

Larry the Lawn Guy beautifies what you have on your landscape (e.g. trees, shrubs, and seasonal flowers).

If the text following the abbreviation is a full sentence, the abbreviation would be preceded by a semicolon and the following text would not be enclosed by parentheses.

Examples
You’ll love how your face feels with the new Guide-n-Glide razor; i.e., it will feel handsome, fresh, and clean. (Style choice is comma after i.e.)

Larry the Lawn Guy beautifies what you have on your landscape; e.g. he trims and shapes your trees, shrubs, and seasonal flowers. (Style choice is no comma after e.g.)

To remove all doubt of intended meaning and usage, some language stylists might even prefer that i.e. and e.g. not be used at all; rather, they will advise the full spelling of the phrases in English (that is to say, in other words; for example). The phrases would be followed by a comma.

Examples
Macy said she’d join us at the tavern at 6:30 p.m. (in other words, 7:00 in Macy time).

Please bring something to the potluck dinner (for example, salad, appetizer, dessert).

If you don’t already adhere to a particular stylebook or in-house guideline, you can choose the format that suits you best and remain consistent with it.

Comparing i.e. and e.g.

Now that we’ve considered the Latin origins, mnemonic devices, and punctuation of the abbreviations, we’ll reinforce the understanding of i.e. and e.g. with one more illustration:

Certain members of my family (i.e., Mom and Uncle Jake) are vegetarians.
Certain members of my family (e.g., Mom and Uncle Jake) are vegetarians.

In the first sentence, the i.e. tells us that Mom and Uncle Jake are the only family members who don’t eat meat.

By including e.g., the second sentence indicates the family includes vegetarians beyond Mom and Uncle Jake; they are just two examples of several vegetarians.

The distinction between the two sentences is noteworthy, and it proves that using i.e. or e.g. can sometimes require careful thought about intent. Simply remember to use i.e. to further identify something and e.g. to provide examples of something.

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct use of i.e. or e.g. in each sentence that follows.

1. Chandra is talented in many different sports ([i.e., / e.g.,] tennis, track, volleyball). 

2. Frank has a flair for formal prose; [i.e., / e.g.,] the man knows how to write well.

3. We will give you the standard discount on your tires ([i.e., / e.g.,] twenty percent). 

4. Quentin Tarantino has directed several memorable films ([i.e., / e.g.,] “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”).

5. Allison loves 1980s hair bands ([i.e., / e.g.,] bands from the decade that played hard rock or heavy metal and whose musicians typically had big, long, teased-out hair).

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Chandra is talented in many different sports (e.g., tennis, track, volleyball). 

2. Frank has a flair for formal prose; i.e., the man knows how to write well.

3. We will give you the standard discount on your tires (i.e., twenty percent). 

4. Quentin Tarantino has directed several memorable films (e.g., “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”).

5. Allison loves 1980s hair bands (i.e., bands that played metal or hard rock music and whose members typically had big, long, teased-out hair).

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

16 responses to “i.e. vs. e.g.: How to Use i.e. or e.g.

  1. Jody F says:

    I’ve been guilty of this error for years! Thank you for helping define the differences so clearly.

  2. Jim Govatos says:

    I was taught to use a comma after the term i.e. However, I see much writting where a comma is not used. Is it optional?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      As we stated in the post, we recommend that e.g., like i.e., should be followed by a comma. However, some editors in recent years have decided the comma is not necessary. Whatever you decide, be consistent.

  3. Farah Alam says:

    Can you please help me with e.g. versus parentheses? I was writing a policy and used, (e.g., needle-stick injuries, lack of hand hygiene). I was told that I should eliminate e.g. and just keep the parentheses. I feel that by using e.g. I have made it clear that these are just examples and not all inclusive. Having only parentheses, would everyone understand that they were only examples?

    Thank you so much.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      This is a judgment call. There is no right answer. If you think using e.g. avoids possible ambiguity, feel free to use it.

  4. Gins says:

    I just want to say, “Thank you.” English is my second language and I have answered the Pop Quiz even before reading your piece and I got a perfect score! I have recently moved into an English-speaking country where some English errors are norms, so I am glad to know my country of origin had instilled the correct ones in me. I’m glad I listened during all those years of learning in school and I am now silently but firmly standing up for correct grammar. I hope to instill the same to my children. I love your site. I hope you see this message and may it bring a smile to your face and warmth to you especially during this difficult time of COVID-19. God bless us all.

  5. Jessa says:

    Thanks for the article. I have a question:
    Are either commas or parentheses considered to be grammatically preferable? Did one of them used to be grammatically preferable?

  6. Wanda Sova says:

    My trick for remembering the difference is to think of e.g. as “egsample” (example).

  7. paul frazier says:

    Thanks for your clear explanations.

    In your article “e.g.” and “i.e.” seem to be underlined in several places, and in one place “etc.” is underlined. It’s a bit confusing to me what that underlining is indicating. Are you indicating that “e.g” and “i.e.” are to be underlined? or are you highlighting them for some purpose?

    This confusion bring up another topic worth clarifying: the use of underlining and italics, especially in relation to word processing tools, and in relation to those of us who frequently use paper and pen and pencil, where italics is not an option.

    Thanks for all your good efforts.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      The words were underlined for emphasis.
      Underlining generally substitutes for italics in a handwritten work.

  8. HMC says:

    Is it possible having multiple phrases/sentences together with i.e. in the parentheses and use semicolon to separate such phrases/sentences?

  9. Cathy Gillespie says:

    So just to clarify – is it no longer right to use commas around e.g. in the following way?

    We wanted to visit some of the key sites in Europe, e.g., the Vatican, the leaning Tower of Pisa, Notre Dame.

    Should I be writing:
    We wanted to visit some of the key sites in Europe (e.g., the Vatican, the leaning Tower of Pisa, Notre Dame).

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      Either one is grammatically correct, although names of monuments are captialized. Therefore, write “Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

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