You may have seen the abbreviations i.e. and e.g. when reading or used them in your writing. But what’s the proper way to use these abbreviations? Learn the definitions of i.e. and e.g. and how to use each one correctly with helpful examples.
Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviations for Latin phrases. While it’s not necessary to understand Latin to use these phrases, knowing their original definitions can help you tell them apart. Their Latin and English meanings are:
i.e. (id est, “that is”) - restate something in a different way
e.g. (exempli gratia, “for the sake of example”) - introduce one or more examples of a broad category
At first glance, these definitions seem quite similar. They both prepare the reader for more information to follow, but these terms are not interchangeable. It is important to remember that e.g. is used for examples and i.e. is used for a definition or restatement. While e.g. examples can expand your idea to be more inclusive, i.e. definitions will restrict your meaning to a more limited idea. For example:
The South American countries (e.g., Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina) were doing very well economically.
The South American countries (i.e., Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina) were doing very well economically.
In the first sentence, e.g. indicates that the writer is listing examples of South American countries. The sentence implies all South American countries, so readers can assume that the economies of other countries in South America are also doing well. In the second sentence, using i.e. clarifies that the writer is specifically talking about these three countries, implying that the rest of South America is not doing as well.
How and when you use i.e. and e.g. depends on what you’re trying to say. Both i.e. and e.g. typically introduce parenthetical statements, but you can use them in other ways, including in a complete sentence. Check out these examples of i.e. and e.g. in different contexts.
This abbreviation is used to restate something in a different way. You can think of it as meaning "in other words" to help you remember its function. For example:
defining a term - The hotel offers turndown service; i.e., the maid will prepare the bed for sleeping and leave a small treat on the pillow.
clarifying a term - Shana was delighted to receive a special gift from her secret admirer (i.e., her husband).
stating an implied meaning - The dog went to play in the yard, i.e., chase the neighbor's cat and dig holes in the garden beds.
The abbreviation e.g. is used to introduce one or more specific examples of a broader category. For example:
The North American countries (e.g., Canada and the U.S.) were involved in the agreement.
We should do our best to take care of beneficial garden insects, e.g., bees and worms.
Healthy exercise (e.g., riding a bike or taking a hike) will help you live longer.
Here, you can replace the abbreviation e.g. with "for example" and the sentence still makes sense. In general, it's not necessary to list every possible example, just a few to give the reader an idea of what you mean.
Now that you know the meanings of these abbreviations and how to use them, learn how to punctuate them.
Each letter of the abbreviation should be followed by a period.
Always write i.e. and e.g. with lowercase letters.
Do not italicize i.e. or e.g.
In American English, there is always a comma immediately after the abbreviation as well.
In British English, you don't always need a comma after the abbreviation.
Here the abbreviation is set off by a comma after the word being defined ("late"). Note the periods in the abbreviation and the comma following the abbreviation.
I got in trouble for getting home so late, i.e., after curfew.
In this example, the extra information is set off in parentheses because it interrupts the flow of the sentence. Note that the abbreviation itself still uses periods and is followed immediately by a comma.
I got grounded (i.e., no TV or phone) because I got home so late.
Learning how to use i.e. and e.g. correctly is much easier once you know what they mean. When in doubt, replace the abbreviations with the words they stand for and read the sentence aloud to check that it still makes sense. Pay attention to the punctuation, and you'll be using these time-tested abbreviations correctly in no time. Explore more ways to say "for example" to make your writing flow.