If someone were to ask you the difference between i.e. vs e.g., what would you tell them? Like many people, do you think they’re more or less the same thing? Interchangeable even? You may be surprised to learn that there is actually an important difference.

i.e. vs e.g.: What’s the Difference?


How Are They Different?

So what is the difference between i.e. and e.g.? They are actually both abbreviations of Latin phrases. E.g. is an abbreviation of "exempli gratia", meaning "for example". You would use this expression when you aren’t providing a complete list but offering a few examples. I.e., on the other hand, is an abbreviation of the Latin "id est", which means "that is". You would use i.e. when you want to give a further explanation of a statement you’ve made.


Why Confusing?

It’s easy to see how people could get the two expressions confused—after all, how many of us today are familiar with ancient Latin? However, with a proper understanding of what the two expressions mean, it’s actually quite easy to correctly decide on whether you should use i.e. or e.g.

A simple way to recall how to use e.g. is to remember that it’s used to list "examples" ("e.g." and "example" both start with "e"). I.e. can be a bit more difficult to remember, but grammar website Grammarist.com recommends making “a mental connection between i.e. and the two-letter ‘i’ words ‘is’ and ‘in’ in ‘that is’ and ‘in other words’.”

i.e. vs e.g: How to Use Them Correctly

It is all well and good being able to give a grammatically correct description of i.e. vs e.g., but, would you now be confident in using them correctly? The easiest way to become familiar with the correct usage is to consider some examples of correct and incorrect practice.

How to Use "i.e." Correctly

Remember that ‘"i.e." basically means "that is", or "in other words", so you use it to make sure your reader clearly understands your previous statement.

Examples of correct usage:

  • It happened in May, i.e., four months ago. (You would use ‘i.e.’ because you are providing clarification on a previous statement.)

  • The city tourist tax is included in the hotel booking, i.e., you don’t have to pay any additional fees on arrival. (Once again, you are providing an explanation, so "i.e.“ should be used).

Examples of incorrect usage:

  • My mother is terrified of all kinds of insects, i.e., ants, beetles, praying mantises, etc. (This is an incorrect usage of "i.e." because you aren’t attempting to clarify your previous statement, you are trying to give examples of different insect types.)

  • In many third world countries, it can be dangerous for tourists to drink water from the tap, i.e., Thailand, Peru or Chile. (As stated above, you are trying to provide a list of examples, so you should be using "e.g." in this sentence, not "i.e.".)


How to Use "e.g." Correctly

Recall that "e.g." is another way of saying "for example", so you use it when you are going to provide the reader with a short list of examples.

Examples of correct usage:

  • Jamie enjoys a wide range of toppings on her ice cream, e.g., sprinkles, chocolate sauce, fruit and nuts. (You are providing examples of what sort of toppings Jamie likes, so you would use "e.g.")

  • Old fashioned nursery rhymes are still often sung by kindergarten children, e.g., "Old Mother Hubbard", "Old McDonald Had a Farm" and "Ring-A-Ring-A-Rosies". (Once again, you would use "e.g." as you are listing examples relating to your previous statement.)

Examples of incorrect usage:

  • The festival will be taking place in 3 months’ time, e.g., in February 2015. (This is an incorrect usage of ”e.g.“ – you aren’t giving a list of examples, you are expounding a previous point.)

  • The actor was expecting the hotel to provide him with the "star treatment", e.g., preferential treatment. (As in the incorrect example above, you are not providing a list of examples as to what constitutes star treatment, so you would use "i.e." to explain what you mean by "star treatment".


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