i.e. vs. e.g.: What to Watch for Wednesday #3

The text "What to Watch for Wednesday" in all caps above a logo of a magnifying glass with a checkmark in it, followed by "Tip of the Week: i.e. vs. e.g." and the M. Neely Proofreading logo

Welcome to another edition of What to Watch for Wednesday, a weekly feature where I go over common issues I see when I’m proofreading or wandering through the wilds of the internet. These may be usage errors, common grammar issues, common spelling issues, or anything else along those lines. If you have an issue that you’d like to see highlighted and explained, drop me a line!

Bobzo the Example guy had many theories about his neighbor, Frank. Bobzo read many books about supernatural creatures, i.e. werewolves, witches, ghosts, and the like, and had concluded that Frank was a vampire. Frank, from what he could tell, seemed to suffer from alliumphobia, e.g. the fear of garlic, and a bit of heliophobia—fear of the sun—as well. Was Frank really a vampire? Clearly! Or did Bobzo just read too many books?

One means “for example.” One means “that is.” Both come from Latin. Can you tell me which? Did I get it wrong in my paragraph about Bobzo and Frank?

Of course I did. I do that on purpose.

When do you use i.e.? When do you use e.g.? Which one means “for example?” Which one means “that is?” Let’s find out!

i.e. vs. e.g.

Of course the language that follows other languages down dark alleyways and steals grammar and spelling and the like snagged quite a few terms from Latin. Lots of stuff it could swipe from a language like Latin: animal from anima, color from color, digit from digitus, stimulus from stimulus—the list goes on. Ad hoc. Et cetera. Per se.

i.e. and e.g. Id est, meaning “that is,” and exempli gratia, meaning “for example.”

Luckily, i.e. and e.g. are more straightforward than the three dashing dashes I covered in the last edition of W2W4W. One of them means “that is.” One of them means “for example.” No muck. No murk. Just two terms that are super easy to mix up in writing.

i.e.

Id est, shortened to i.e., means “that is.” That is to say, i.e. is an initialism used for clarity. It can restate a point that’s already been made or explain a concept that readers might not be familiar with yet. It’s an adverb.

Sometimes it’s put in parentheses or set off by em dashes. Sometimes it’s not. Some say it needs a comma after it. Some say it doesn’t. The joys of the English language.

Usually, it isn’t italicized.

Not to be confused with the late, not-that-great Internet Explorer—may it rest in peace.

e.g.

Exempli gratia, shortened to e.g., means “for the sake of an example.” Usually, this initialism is used the same way as “for example,” and comes before an item or a non-exhaustive list of items used as examples. It, too, is an adverb.

Like its cousin i.e., sometimes it’s put in parentheses or set off by em dashes, and sometimes it’s not. Some say it needs a comma after it. Some say it doesn’t.

Usually, it isn’t italicized.

How do you use these terms correctly?

Bobzo the Example Guy had many theories about his neighbor, Frank. Bobzo read many books about supernatural creatures, e.g. werewolves, witches, ghosts, and the like, and had concluded that Frank was a vampire. Frank, from what he could tell, seemed to suffer from alliumphobia, i.e. the fear of garlic, and a bit of heliophobia—fear of the sun—as well. Was Frank really a vampire? Clearly! Or did Bobzo just read too many books?

Here are some examples:

i.e.

  • Bobzo the Example Guy is not a fan of most foods (i.e. he is a picky eater), but he is seriously considering breaking out of his rut and trying new foods.
  • Frank next door—i.e. an alleged vampire—thinks Bobzo would like macaroni and cheese. He also thinks Bobzo is handsome, but that’s beside the point.
  • Bobzo suspects he might be a supertaster, i.e. someone whose sense of taste is stronger than the average person’s. Frank believes he may be right.

e.g.

  • Frank is a gourmand. He enjoys high-quality foods and drinks, e.g. fine red wine, gourmet cheeses, and exceptional bread.
  • However, Frank also suffers from numerous allergies (e.g. allergies to alliums, food coloring, and seafood), so he must read labels carefully in order to avoid potentially deadly mishaps.
  • Bobzo’s diet of bland foods, e.g. chicken breasts, potatoes, and bread, is highly compatible with Frank’s food allergies. Bobzo is still pretending he hasn’t noticed that, or the way his vampire neighbor looks in a suit.

How can you remember it?

Here are a couple of quick little mnemonics that might help you out:

  • i.e. means “that is.” “That is” and i.e. both contain the letter I.

    i.e., the one with the I, is the one that means “that is.”
  • e.g. means “for example.” “For example” and e.g. both contain the letter E.

    e.g., the one with the E, is the one that means “for example.”

i.e. and e.g.

Two initialisms, both alike in dignity,

In unfair English, where we lay our scene,

From ancient usage break to new confusion…

…and I’m stopping the bastardization of Shakespeare there.

Id est and exempli gratia, i.e. and e.g., have stuck around for a very long time, joining the hodgepodge of a language that is English and fueling writer questions for years. Which do you use when? Are they interchangeable? How do I remember?

i.e. means “that is.” It’s used to restate points and clarify concepts. i.e., the one with the I, is the one that means “that is.”

e.g. means “for example.” It presents an example item or a non-exhaustive list of examples. e.g., the one with the E, is the one that means “for example.”


Are i.e. and e.g. a problem for you? How do you keep up with the difference? Want to try using them in a few sentences yourself? Give it a shot in the comments below!

And, hey, are there any words, grammar rules, punctuation problems, or other such things that always give you trouble? Hit me up, and maybe I’ll cover them.

I hope that Bobzo, Frank, and I have cleared up the difference between i.e. and e.g. for you. Please, do come back next Wednesday for another edition of What to Watch for Wednesday. And if you need some extra help from a sharp-eyed word nerd, hit me up for a free sample edit or hire me to proofread for you.

If not, go follow me on Pinterest and Facebook! Then sign up for my newsletter, too, if you haven’t already.

See you next time!

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