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Language Arts

e.g. vs. i.e.



In this article "e.g." vs "i.e." we learn about the differences between "for example" and "that is" and when to use each. It can be confusing trying to decide whether to use "i.e." or "e.g." Read this "e.g." vs "i.e." article for a better understanding.

According to a BBC online website article, some British local council offices - the local governing authorities - have outlawed the use of Latin terms by their staff in communication with the public. These words and phrases have been banned from both oral and written communication, and the ban includes words and phrases like:

  • via
  • vice versa
  • ad hoc
  • bona fide

It also includes e.g., on the basis that avoiding it will prevent people confusing the abbreviation with the word egg. Unlike the British councils, we’re going to assume here that you can distinguish e.g. from egg, and focus instead on helping you avoid confusion between e.g. and i.e. - a much more common source of confusion, at least in the United States!

E.G.

E.g. is a commonly used abbreviation in English. It comes from the Latin phrase exempli gratia meaning “for example,” and is abbreviated in a standard way, using the first letter of each word, each letter being followed by a period. It is correct to place a comma after the abbreviated phrase according to The Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition, just as one would place a comma after “for example” when it served as an introductory phrase.

I.E.

I.e., is also a commonly used abbreviation in English. It comes from the Latin phrase id est meaning “that is,” and is abbreviated. like e.g., in a standard way using the first letter of each word in the source phrase, and following each with a period. As with e.g., it is correct according to The Chicago Manual to place a comma after the abbreviation.

E.g. vs i.e.

Whether speaking of the phrase “for example,” or the abbreviation e.g., the usage is for occasions on which one expands what has already been said by giving examples that are not necessarily a complete list of all possible examples. So if your reference phrase (the one you were going to expand on) was “major cities of Australia” and you then referred back to it using either “for example” or “e.g.,” you might give any number of samples, depending on the context, but would not be expected to list all of the major cities.

However, when speaking of the phrase “that is,” or the abbreviation i.e., the usage is for occasions on which one expands what has already been said by restating it, either in other words that expand understanding or by giving a complete list of the members of the category. So if your reference phrase (the one you were going to expand on) was “major cities of Australia” in this case, and then you then referred back to it using either “that is” or “i.e.,” you would be expected to list all of the members of the category “major cities of Australia” or give an equivalent definition, such as the population that qualifies a city for that category.

According to The Chicago Manual, it is preferable in formal usage to use the English phrases that these two abbreviations substitute for and in informal usage, substitute the abbreviation of the Latin phrase. So, one would have sentences like this:

Informal: I’m definitely visiting five of Australia’s biggest cities, e.g., Sydney and Melbourne.

Formal: A tour of Australia would be incomplete without visits to its five major cities, for example, Sydney and Melbourne.

Informal: I’m definitely touring Australia’s five biggest cities, i.e., Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Brisbane.

Formal: A tour of Australia would be incomplete without visits to its major cities, i.e., those with populations of more than a million residents.

In the informal sentences, you can see that “e.g.” is only followed by examples, not a complete list, whereas “i.e.” is followed by a list of all five cities that will be visited.

You can see that in the formal setting, the word phrase is used and the distinction of meaning comes in the extent of the restatement. E.g. or “for example” is followed by only a few examples, whereas i.e. or “that is” is followed by a complete redefinition.

Helpful Hint

As for remembering the difference between the two abbreviated phrases, try this mnemonic:

When we say the word example in “for example” the first syllable of the word sounds pretty much like the word egg. When you say “that is,” nothing sounds remotely like the word egg. So you can use the British confusion between egg and e.g. to your benefit by remembering to use the abbreviation e.g. for the phrase that has the egg sound in it: for example!

Sources

news.bbc.co.uk