Using E.g. and I.e.

June 29, 2011

in Technical Writing

Misuse of the abbreviations e.g. and i.e. is highly prevalent in technical documents and other literature where examples are used. These two abbreviations can’t be used interchangeably and need to be fully understood before undertaking technical writing tasks.

Both abbreviations are derivatives of Latin words, I.e. stands for id est, and E.g. stands for exempli gratia. But don’t worry, you won’t need to understand Latin to get this right.

In Latin i.e. means “roughly, that is”.

In Latin e.g. means “for example”.

BUT! Forget the Latin meaning of i.e., and instead consider this abbreviation to mean “in other words”.

So let’s look at usage for e.g. and i.e.

“I enjoy playing different genres of music, e.g. (for example), rock, heavy metal and folk.”

The sentence above gives you examples of music genres, not necessarily ones I like.

Now, if I use the same sentence with i.e., the meaning changes.

“I enjoy playing different genres of music, i.e. (in other words), rock, heavy metal and folk”.

Now you know that these are genres I like because i.e. provides the clarification.

Here are two more examples for you:

“My daughter loves watching cartoons, e.g., Daffy Duck, Spiderman, and Roadrunner”.

“My daughter loves watching cartoons, i.e., SpongeBob, Postman Pat, and Tom and Jerry”.

Italicising E.g. and I.e.

You will often see e.g. and i.e. italicised in documents. There isn’t actually a need to do this. You don’t need to highlight these abbreviations to the reader because both are fully rooted in the English language and easily identified.

Using A Comma After E.g. and I.e.

You may have noticed I use a comma after e.g. and i.e. in my examples above. This is generally considered an appropriate thing to do, and although your spellchecker may think otherwise, the following style guides recommend this practice:

  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • Blue Book of Grammar and punctuation
  • The Guide to Grammar and Writing
  • The Columbia Guide to Standard American English

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