Grammar

e.g. or i.e.? Let’s Clarify These Common Latin Abbreviations

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We use plenty of Latin abbreviations in English, but a cartain pair of two-letter abbreviations can sometimes confuse readers.

Two Latin abbreviations, e.g. and i.e., appear often in articles and books. I’m sure you encounter them frequently, even if you don’t take the time to think about what they mean.

Both have a key thing in common: they introduce additional information that makes what you’re reading a bit more clear. As a communicator, I value a clear message. So as you might guess, I appreciate these little devices if they do indeed clarify the message.

But before you attempt to use them, make sure you know the difference between the two.

e.g.

The abbreviation e.g. means exempli gratia. You will generally find it placed before a single item or a list of items. Exempli gratia means “for the sake of example.”

Consider this sentence from Bloomberg Tax:

Unclaimed property laws typically apply to items such as payroll (e.g., the employee did not cash their paycheck), accounts receivable credit balances (e.g., the customer double paid a bill and was not refunded), accounts payable (e.g., the holder sent a check to a vendor, but the vendor did not cash it), and funds held in bank accounts and other investment accounts.

Yes, it’s a bit of a monster of a sentence, but you can clearly see how the use of e.g. helps clarify. The first use of e.g. explains how payroll could become unclaimed property. The second explains how accounts receivable credit balances could become unclaimed property.” You get the idea.

i.e.

The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est. If you didn’t take Latin classes, that provides absolutely zero help. So I’ll go ahead and tell you that id est means, “that is.”

Sometimes, in more formal writing, one might want to clarify a point with the phrase, “that is to say” and then provide additional information. The i.e. takes the place of “that is to say” or even the shorter “that is” with just four characters.

Searching for examples of i.e. might get you a lot of stories about Ireland — since .ie is the web domain for the country of Ireland — or Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (abbreviated IE), which will supposedly die for real this summer.

But I found one. Merriam-Webster, in discussing the difference between the two Latin abbreviations, provides this example:

If your home has “hard water” (i.e., a high mineral content), your sinks, showers, and tubs no doubt bear white or yellow buildup as a result.

Melissa Reddigari, BobVila.com, 22 Aug. 2019

The difference between the e.g. and i.e. use might seem similar, particularly when you have only one example to offer. But you have to remember that e.g. is only meant to provide an example of what you’re saying while i.e. is meant to further explain what it means.

How you can remember the difference

An easy way to remember the proper use of e.g. is to simply tell yourself it stands for “examples given.” This might help you know that once you type e.g., it’s time to actually give those examples.

You can use a handy little memory aid for i.e. if, like most of us, id est doesn’t really help: tell yourself that i.e. stands for “information explained.” No, you wouldn’t say it that way if you were reading the sentence out loud. But it might at least help you remember that i.e. means you’re further explaining something versus just providing an example.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.