Friday, June 21, 2013

Struggling with Words, Part 3: e.g. or i.e.?

[This is the third in a series of posts on commonly confused words.]

Most writers get e.g. right, but many get i.e. wrong. Here's the difference. The term e.g., an abbreviation of the Latin expression exempli gratia, means for example; the term i.e., also an abbreviation of the Latin id est, means that is. Another way to get these terms right is to remember e.g. as example given and i.e. as in essence

Here are some examples:

  • Allison can recite in order all the United States presidents (e.g., Washington, Lincoln, Obama). If I had written i.e., then I would have to mention all 44 US presidents.
  • The most populated cities in China (e.g., Shanghai, Beijing) are trying to alleviate pollution. If I had written i.e., then I would have mentioned Tianjin and Guangzhou, which are also more populated than New York, the most populated US city. 
  • Tonight Benjamin will see his wife (i.e., Carol). If I had written e.g., then Benjamin is a polygamist.
  • In session are the justices of the Supreme Court (i.e., Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan). If I had written e.g., then I would not have had to mention all the justices.

Some teachers suggest that we avoid using e.g. and i.e. because they come from a so-called "dead language" and instead write out for example and that is. I'm not buying it. Attorneys, doctors, and lawyers still liberally use Latin terms, so let's get these terms right.