What’s the difference between i.e. and e.g.? These little abbreviations can be hard to keep straight while writing a paper.
We feel really smart when we use these guys, which we think have something to do with Latin. But when we throw in the wrong one, we don’t feel so suave. So we probed the i.e. vs. e.g. issue, and here’s what we found.
Put simply, you use “e.g.” when listing examples, and “i.e.” when rephrasing or elaborating on something. So the key rule of thumb here is that i.e. is not used for examples, but rather to add specification.
One mind-blowing, related fact: “ex.” isn’t really a thing. Sometimes people use it (ex. in informal writing), but it’s not something you should use in anything academic or professional. “Ex.” is kind of a made up abbreviation.
Whichever you’re using, remember that both i.e. and e.g. are always lowercase with periods in between. You should always put a comma after them, too. Additional tip: never put “etc.” after an “e.g.” list! This is not considered classy or grammatically correct.
Below is a quick overview of what each means, how to use them, and an example sentence for each.
What it means:
Exempli gratia, Latin for “for the sake of example.”
How it’s used:
E.g. is used to provide specific examples of a topic you’ve just mentioned, most often in parentheses or after a comma.
There are many great sites still on my bucket list (e.g., the Grand Canyon and the Colosseum).
Here, you’re saying that the Grand Canyon and the Colosseum are some of the sites on your bucket list. You haven’t mentioned the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Machu Picchu, or Venice, which are also on your list.
Think of the “e” standing for “example.”
What it means:
“Id est,” Latin for “that is to say” or “in other words”
How it’s used:
Rather than providing examples, use i.e. to add clarification.
We embarked on a cross-country road trip, i.e. an excuse to eat at every roadside diner on the map.
Translate “i.e.” for “in essence”
Don’t limit yourself to two-letter set-ups. There are plenty of other ways to introduce examples or add elaboration in your writing. Here are some examples:
- We hit the road in search of great American treasures (for example, the giant ball of yarn of legend).
- We soon realized we hadn’t thought through logistics quite as well (that is to say, we forgot to fill up the tank before entering the desert).
- As luck would have it, we ran into a gas station when we were down to our last drops (put another way, before we were really up a creek).
- Even luckier, there was a diner right next door (in essence, the great pit stop of American vehicular travel).
- We slid into a booth and asked for our greatest wishes to be granted (in other words, we ordered burgers and chocolate shakes).
And don’t forget to run your essays through a paper checker like the one right here on Citation Machine! It’ll help catch writing mistakes around the capitalization of proper noun words, subject-verb agreement, word choice, and more (I.e., it’s pretty awesome).
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