i.e. vs. e.g.: Meanings, Difference and Examples

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 them? Learn the definitions of i.e. and e.g. and how to use each one correctly with helpful examples.

e.g. vs. i.e. example e.g. vs. i.e. example
Advertisement

Definitions of i.e. and e.g.

Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviations for Latin phrases. While it’s not necessary to understand Latin to use these phrases, understanding 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 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. Using them correctly is important when writing clearly.

Examples and Usage of i.e. vs. e.g.

So, when should you use i.e. and when should you use e.g.? It depends on what you’re trying to say. Check out these examples of i.e. and e.g. in different sentences.

Examples of i.e. in Sentences

This phrase 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:

  • The hotel offers turndown service; i.e., the maid will prepare the bed for sleeping and leave a small treat on the pillow.
  • Shana was delighted to receive a special gift from her secret admirer (i.e., her husband).
  • The dog went to play in the yard, i.e., chase the neighbor's cat and dig holes in the garden beds.

As you can see, i.e. is often used to offer a definition of a term, as in the first example that explains exactly what "turndown service" is. It can also be used to clarify what the writer means by a term - explaining that "secret admirer" is really Shana’s husband. In some cases, i.e. is used to redefine a term to give it a new or unusual meaning. For example, when we say the dog "plays in the yard," what we really mean is that the dog is rather poorly behaved, digging holes and harassing other animals.

Advertisement

Examples of e.g. in Sentences

The abbreviation e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means for example in Latin. This abbreviation is used to introduce one or more specific examples of a broader category. For example:

  • The South American countries (e.g., Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina) were doing very well economically.
  • 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.

The Difference Between i.e. and e.g.

While you may see these abbreviations used interchangeably, this is not correct. In fact, i.e. and e.g. can subtly change the meaning of your sentence. Consider these two versions of the examples from above:

  • 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. No one expects an exhaustive list after e.g., so the reader can assume that the economies of other countries in South America are also doing well - the sentence implies all South American countries.

In the second sentence, using i.e. limits the definition of South American countries to just Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. If you reread it as "The South American countries (that is, Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina) were doing very well economically," this meaning becomes clearer. In this case, the writer only means these three countries, implying that just these three countries make up South America or that the rest of South America is not doing as well.

This is why it's 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.

Advertisement

Punctuating i.e. and e.g. Correctly

Once you decide which abbreviation you need to use, remember that each letter of the abbreviation should be followed by a period. The abbreviation should come directly after the word or phrase you're giving more information about, and it will need to be set off by either parentheses or commas. In American English, there is always a comma immediately after the abbreviation as well. For example:

  • I got in trouble for getting home so late, i.e., after curfew.
    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 grounded (i.e., no TV or phone) because I got home so late.
    In this case, 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.

You may see these phrases italicized, but that’s not proper usage. Using i.e. and e.g. are common enough that italicizing them isn’t necessary.

Is It "That Is" or "For Example"?

Learning how to use i.e. and e.g. correctly is much easier once you know what each one represents. When in doubt, replace the abbreviation 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 more interesting.