i.e. vs. e.g.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

e.g. is Latin for "exempli gratia" -- for example

i.e. is Latin for "id est" -- that is

Both are used for clarification, but they're not interchangeable.

The use of e.g. should be followed by examples, for example, in the sentence

Be sure to eat your vegetables, e.g. carrots, peas, and lettuce.

The use of i.e. should be followed by a rephrasing of the statement, that is to say you don't list a series of examples, rather you reword and perhaps elaborate on what you said to make it easier to understand.

But it can get confusing when someone rephrases a statement by making an analogy, e.g.
It's like writing a book of poetry, i.e. it's like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.

I'm not sure why this would throw many people off, but apparently it does, probably because analogies tend to be abstract, and when you're being abstract for the sake of clarification, well, much like that sentence, you look ridiculous.

The way I tell them apart is by substituting "such as" for "e.g." (just another reason to read rule v of the greatest treatise on writing there is), that usually makes it clear whether you're reading examples or a rephrasing.

If you still have trouble, you probably shouldn't be using the terms in the first place, i.e. you're a buffoon, e.g. an ape, a mongoloid, a fool.


Emily said...

Oh, this drives me crazy. It also bothers me when people use i.e. in place of e.g. and then end the list with etc.

One thing, though- I thought that i.e. and e.g. are supposed to be followed with a comma. I typically use i.e. and e.g. in parentheses (i.e., between the symbols ( and )).

Nat said...

@Emily: Both good calls -- and have you ever seen someone end a sentence with "etc." and then add another period after that? So you get "...etc.."?


Regarding the comma, I prefer to use it before, though most grammar guides will tell you that it's not wrong to follow with a comma (which is different from telling you that you must) -- in the end, it basically comes down to the personal preference of whomever you're writing for. If you're writing for yourself, then no need to worry, just be consistent.

For that matter, a lot of people italicize i.e. and e.g., too!

Emily said...

Thanks for the clarification. Even though I consider myself to be a member of the grammar police and my job description includes copy editing, my English education is largely informal. I still don't know the parts of speech, believe it or not. This blog has been helping me refine my knowledge, so thanks.