It’s been a while since I wrote a Grammar Gripe. For those readers who enjoy them, I’m sorry it’s take so long. Though there are a few others in the queue that I’ve been slowly considering, this s one of has bothered me for for years. (Yes, I am the kind of person who ponders grammar questions for years. Just let that sink in before moving on.)

As it turns out, I’ve been using these wrong for most of the time that I have been pondering them. I consider myself fortunate that I’m writing this now and can finally sort this out. Finally, I can sleep soundly knowing the difference between “i.e.” and “e.g.”

What do i.e. and e.g. mean?

Both are abbreviations of Latin terms. Therefore, “i.e.” means “id est” and “e.g.” means “exempli gratia.” So that clears things up, doesn’t it?

If you are anything like me, you probably didn’t study Latin as a young human. (If you did, kudos.) But not to worry, both terms are easily translated, with several handy mnemonic tricks to help remember their use.

Using i.e.

Id est” translates to “that is.” This means that the abbreviation “i.e.” is used to clarify one’s point by giving additional information. See the example below:

My dog is playing with her favorite toy, i.e., an abacus made of precious metals and gems.

A good way to remember this use is that “i.e.” is also an abbreviation for “in essence.” It also starts with an “i” like “in other words.” Need more examples? I know I did.

He has very specific tastes in music, i.e., death metal performed on antique ukuleles.

I’m here with my great grandmother (i.e., the foul-mouthed old woman over there doing Jello shots with the bikers).

Using e.g.

Exempli gratia” means “for example.” Its use is clear, i.e., to provide examples of your point. (See what I did there with that clarification? Sometimes I even impress myself.) As an example, anything that follows “e.g.” is not assumed to be a full list but instead just one or a few of many possible examples.

The staff found many children’s toys when they cleaned the ball pits, e.g., nunchucks, asbestos, and used syringes.

A good way to remember the proper usage of “e.g.” is to use the childish pronunciation “eg-sample.” Also, both “e.g.” and “example” contain that initial “e,” which is another big clue. Here are a couple more examples of how to use…erm…examples.

Scott refuses to eat anything that smells like a dumpster set on fire, e.g., durian or his uncle’s meatloaf.

Credenzas are useful for storing office essentials (e.g., staplers, protein bars, one’s self-esteem, etc.)

A Note on Punctuation and Usage

So now we know how to use “i.e.” (for clarification) and “e.g.” (for examples), there are still a few picky points on punctuation. If you’re as excited about reading this as I am to be writing it, then you’re one of my people. (Even if you’re not, then you’re still pretty cool for having gotten this far.)

  • i.e.” and “e.g.” always have two periods
  • i.e.” and “e.g.” are usually used in parenthetical statements, so they appear after a comma or inside parentheses
  • i.e.” and “e.g.” should have a comma after them (seriously)

If you look at any of the examples above, you’ll see that I’ve tried hard to meet these conditions. It may look slightly awkward or unnatural, especially when periods and commas are wedged together so closely, but that is the “correct” way of writing these abbreviations.

Alternatives to “i.e.” and “e.g.”

If ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to spell out exactly what you mean. It would be fine to replace “i.e.” with “that is”, “in essence”, or “in other words” to completely eliminate confusion. Or it can simply be a place holder to tell you which abbreviation to use. The same applies to “e.g.”, with the phrase “for example.” Anywhere that you use “e.g.” is interchangeable with “for example.”

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. If it’s still not clear, you can take a look at my source material here, here, and here. (The last one being a more visual approach.)

Did you enjoy that, grammar nerds? Have anything to ask or add? Let me know in the comments.

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