The Latin Abbreviations i.e. and e.g.

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  • Nancy Tuten

    3 November 2017

    The Latin Abbreviations i.e. and e.g.

    Elsewhere on this site, we have articles on many confusing word pairs, such as effect and affect,  lay and lie, bad and badly, and I and me.

    This article focuses on abbreviations for two Latin phrases. We often see i.e. and e.g. used incorrectly (and illogically), so it’s easy to get them mixed up.

    Students of Latin are more likely than the rest of us to know the difference between them. Do you?


    Here’s a Quick Test

    Which of the following sentences correctly use the Latin abbreviations i.e. and e.g.?

    1. The evaluation noted that the employee had frequently exhibited irresponsible behavior (i.e., coming to work late, failing to complete projects).
    2. Writing instructors focus on a number of complex skills that require extensive practice (e.g., organization, clear expression, logical thinking, etc.)
    3. The general rule is that if a number can be expressed in three words or fewer, it should be written out (e.g., “two hundred seventy”).
    4. Use a comma to enclose (i.e., both before and after) the year in a month-day-year sequence.

    Only sentences three and four are correct.

    Knowing the Latin Phrases Helps Us Keep Them Straight

    • The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est and means that is or in other words.
    • The abbreviation e.g. stands for exempli gratia and means for example (literally, free example).

    Sentence 1, then, should have used e.g. rather than i.e. because the parenthetical expression provides examples of irresponsible behavior.

    Sentence 2 correctly uses e.g. but makes the mistake of adding etc. at the end of the list. When we use e.g., we tell the reader that we are providing a few examples. The e.g. itself says that our list will not be exhaustive. Thus, to avoid being redundant, we should not add etc. at the end of a list introduced by e.g.

    A Few Additional Points

    • The letters are followed by periods and have no space between them.
    • Both expressions are followed by a comma after the second period.
    • In professional contexts, they should be used only in footnotes or parenthetically (i.e., inside parentheses).
    • A few style manuals (e.g., the Texas Law Review Manual on Usage and Style) say that these abbreviations should be italicized, but most style manuals advocate setting them in Roman type.

    TEST YOURSELF

    1. Phone calls made to major cities within our three-state area (e.g., Raleigh, Atlanta, Greenville, etc.) are billed at the local rate.
    2. The summary of the auditor’s report must specify which of the four types of findings was issued on the financial statements of the audited entity (i.e., unqualified opinion, qualified opinion, adverse opinion, or disclaimer of opinion).
    3. Personal electronic devices (i.e., cell phones, laptop computers) may not be used until the airplane reaches a certain altitude.
    4. The president of the company is allowed certain privileges, including the use of the corporate jet and mountain retreat center, even when she is not engaged in company business (e.g., she may use them for vacations and other personal travel).

    ANSWERS

    1. correct use of e.g., but etc. should be omitted
    2. correct (The word four tells us that this particular list is exhaustive rather than being a list of examples.)
    3. e.g.
    4. i.e.

    Copyright 2001 Get It Write. Revised 2019.

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