How do I know when to use i.e. vs e.g.? How do I use them properly? Is there a difference between them?
i.e. vs e.g.—What’s the difference between the two?
The short answer
Why should you use i.e. vs e.g., you ask? These two abbreviations come from Latin. They mean different things and should not be used interchangeably. However, they are frequently confused and therefore misused.
The first, e.g., means “for example” and introduces a list of examples. The second, i.e., means “that is” and extends or clarifies an idea. Both are written in lowercase letters, without italics, and with periods between the letters.
We find that clients make two common mistakes.
Common mistake #1: Using i.e. when you really mean e.g.
Or, of course, vise versa: using e.g. when you really mean i.e.
E.g., exempli gratia, means “for example.” It’s used to expand an idea by providing one or more examples:
Preparing for the zombie apocalypse (e.g., stockpiling food, choosing weapons, and planning an evacuation route) is important.
In this example sentence we use e.g. because we’re providing three suggestions to prepare for a zombie invasion. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list.
I.e., id est, means “that is.” It’s used to narrow an idea by clarifying it:
The zombie apocalypse (i.e., a destructive assault on civilization by zombies) could happen in our lifetimes.
In this second example we use i.e. because we’re explaining what a zombie apocalypse is, and it can be only one thing.
If we use one abbreviation in place of the other, we change the meaning and accuracy of the sentences. Let’s look at those two sample sentences again, with the wrong abbreviations in them.
Common mistake #2: Using both e.g. and etc.
Etc., et cetera, means “and other things.” It indicates that a given list is not exhaustive. Of course, that idea is subsumed within the idea e.g., which is to provide some examples.
Here the rule is simple: If you’re using e.g., do not also use etc.
Using both e.g. at the front of a list and etc. at the end is redundant. Pick one and move along.
Follow these tips when using the Latin abbreviations e.g., i.e., and etc. in your writing:
- Do not italicize the letters. (We’ve italicized in some sentences because we were using the abbreviations as linguistic examples.)
- Always write the letters in lowercase.
- For i.e. and e.g., put periods after each letter, followed by a comma. For etc., put one period at the end.
- Do not add a second period if etc. ends a sentence (such as “binge watch The Walking Dead, etc.”) above.
- However, if the closing punctuation is something other than a period, include the abbreviation’s period and the closing punctuation. For example: Would you prepare for a zombie apocalypse by binge watching The Walking Dead, etc.?
In addition to thinking about whether you’re expanding an idea or narrowing it, a helpful way to remember the difference is to think of “e.g.” as the first sound of “example” and “i.e.” as the first letters of “in essence.”
We hope this article has helped you to understand when to use i.e. vs e.g. and vice versa.
What trips you up when using Latin terms in your writing? Let us know in the comments below!