E.g. vs. i.e.

The abbreviation e.g.—short for the Latin phrase exempli gratia—means for example. It is different from i.e.—short for the Latin id est—which means that is, namely, or in other words. The two are sometimes mixed up, but other than being abbreviations of Latin phrases, they share no common ground.

E.g. is easy to remember because both it and example start with e. With i.e., just remember that it and that is are both two syllables, or make a mental connection between i.e. and the two-letter i words is and in in that is and in other words.

I.e. and e.g. are lowercase when they come in the middle of a sentence. Most American style guides recommend following e.g. and i.e. with a comma and including the periods after each letter, and this is usually borne out in edited American books and publications. Outside North America, the periods and the comma are often omitted.

There is no need to italicize e.g. and i.e. in normal use (we italicize them in this post because we’re discussing them, not using them). English speakers typically italicize words and phrases from foreign languages when they are new to English, but i.e. and e.g. have been in English for hundreds of years, so they now go unitalicized.


It’s early, and factors beyond anyone’s control (e.g. the euro, Iran) could impact the race. [Washington Post]

The Harvard report compared “professional” reviewers (ie those working for newspapers and magazines) with their new competition. [Guardian]

Prohibition of illegal substances (e.g. LSD or MDMA) has also prevented very important clinical research from continuing. [Sydney Morning Herald]

In 2005, America had the lowest personal savings rate since 1933. In fact it was outright negative — i.e., consumers spent more money than they made. [Chicago Tribune]

[T]he announcement … was so intoxicating to the world’s sci-fi geeks (e.g. me) that they’ve been gearing themselves up for a work of genius.      [Independent]

The bulk – ie, about $3b – of new spending priorities announced today are reallocations of money from other uses. [Stuff.co.nz]

24 thoughts on “E.g. vs. i.e.”

  1. Thanks for the explaination.
    As subjective criticism, I suggest that you drop the latin definition completely (or at least push it back in the sentence) and replace it with
    “The abbreviation ‘e.g.’ is short for a Latin phrase that means ‘gracious example’ (literally ‘exempli gratia’). While e.g. is more accurately translated as ‘for example’, the ‘gracious example’ definition creates a good memory aid, even if the letters are reversed.”
    I.e., treat the definition of e.g. the same way you treated the definition of id est.

    • Gracious example? Yes, gratia can mean gracious, but it also means sake, and I think that’s closer to what the original phrase translated to. ‘For the sake of an example’ makes a lot more sense than ‘gracious example’ considering what we use e.g. to mean.
      My mnemonic device has always been to think of another latin word that derived from gratia, namely ‘gratis’ meaning free. So exempli gratia is a ‘free example’ that is provided to you so you don’t have to use your head brain to come up with one of your own!

  2. “There is no need to italicize e.g. and i.e. in normal use. We typically italicize words and phrases from foreign languages when they are new to English, but i.e. and e.g. have been in English for hundreds of years, so they now go unitalicized.”
    –But yet, you italicize them in the entire article? Either way, good information.

    • That’s why we say “in normal use.” In this post we italicize them because we’re not using them but rather presenting them as phrases (abbreviations) out of context. That’s our standard practice with words and phrases under discussion, but it gets a little awkward (and maybe confusing to readers) when it comes to pointing out that the word or phrase under discussion is not normally italicized.

    • I believe your use of i.e. and the commas following both abbreviations is incorrect.
      Intense boredom is not “in other words riding in the car.” Riding in a car is an example of boredom.

  3. It seems to me that “e.g.” is to give a partial list, and “i.e.” is to clarify or describe… at least that’s what I took away from this.

  4. I remember a teacher noting that the “e.g.” could easily be remembered as “example given” and “i.e” as “in entirety.” Sure enough, that’s what I fall back on to determine which one I use.

    • I totally used i.e. in that same context. I just thought it was Latin meaning ‘for example’… I now know when to use e.g. but still a tad fuzzy on the specifics of i.e.

  5. I never really knew what “e.g.” or “i.e.” meant until I read this article. From usage, I always assumed that they meant “example given” and “in essence”, which are kind of close to the actual Latin meanings.

  6. I think of them as e.g. = example given and i.e. = in essence. But it’s interesting knowing the root of these helpful short phrases.

  7. I was taught that both of these are parenthetical expressions in and of themselves, i.e., they don’t need parentheses around them (just commas). But I note that nearly all of your examples use parentheses.

  8. I’d always used e.g. = for EGGsample, and i.e. is the other one.

    But “example given” and “in essence” or “in entirety” are better.

    It does annoy me how many New Zealanders do NOT know the difference. Sometimes though there is a real ambiguity e.g. a recent newspaper article saying “schools should play more sport i.e. rugby”. Given that NZ are current world champions in rugby and it is our national sport and quasi religion, it is possible that they really did mean sport = rugby, all other sport being irrelevant.


Leave a Comment