Saturday, July 01, 2006

E.G. or I.E.?

Writers tend to confuse the Latin abbreviations e.g. and i.e., so the request to distinguish between the two often pops up in my writing seminars. Here is a list of common questions and their answers to clarify the confusion.

Question: What do e.g. and i.e. mean?
Answer: e.g. stands for exempli gratia, or for example; i.e. stands for id est, or that is.

Question: Can I use e.g. and i.e. interchangeably?
Answer: No.

Question: When should I use e.g.?
Answer: Use e.g. to give an example of something you’ve just indicated. In the sentence below, the writer assumes that the reader would know that pens, pencils, and notebooks are only examples of a larger list of needed supplies.

Please bring the supplies (e.g., pens, pencils, notebooks).

Question: When should I use i.e.?
Answer: Use i.e. to provide an explanation of something you’ve just indicated. In the sentence below, the writer describes the complete list of needed books.

I need the books (i.e., dictionary, thesaurus, style manual).

Question: How should I punctuate e.g. and i.e.?
Answer: See the examples above. They appear in parentheses and have periods after each letter followed by a comma.

Question: Since Latin is a “dead” language, should I even use e.g. or i.e.?
Answer: Why not? We use other Latin terms. Many competent writers use them—writers who are far more skilled than the grammar police who discourage their use. So feel free to use e.g. and i.e. But use them correctly, because they are different, and use them sparingly, because overusing them could become an excuse for not writing clearly.

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