The Latin term i.e. is an abbreviation for id est and translates to “in other words,” or “in essence.” In contrast, e.g. stands for exampli gratia and means “for the sake of example,” but is more common as “for example.”
When used within a sentence, i.e. and e.g. are used to provide more context to an author’s main point. The key differences between either term are whether the author wants to narrow down their points with specific examples or relate their position to broader topics with an indefinite amount of samples.
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The terms i.e. and e.g. are Latin abbreviations used to clarify concepts within sentences while saving breadth for readers. After all, Shakespeare once wrote, “since brevity is the soul of wit… I will be brief,” and Latin abbreviations are no different.
Other than i.e. and e.g., there is a third similar Latin abbreviation used within formal writing: etc.: et cetera: “and others” or “and the rest.” In fact, the term etc. is one of the most common Latin terms used in the modern English language.
We use et cetera every day to express ongoing examples or list items with “and so on” in speech. Using etc. is similar to that of e.g., except for listed items appropriate for e.g. are definite in length, and list items for “etc.” are indefinite–– in conversation, at least.
What does i.e. mean?
As mentioned above, the Latin abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, which translates to “that is” in English. Using i.e. is similar to writing “in other words,” “what that means,” or “that is to say,” and is used to reference an author’s specific, underlying subject.
What does e.g. mean?
The Latin term e.g. is an abbreviation for exempli gratia and means “for the sake of example” or “for example” in English. Similarly to i.e., e.g. is used to explain a concept more thoroughly. The critical difference is that e.g. is used to open up or expand on an idea by providing examples. We use this notion of speech every day while using phrases to introduce relevant ideas:
How to write i.e. and e.g. in a sentence
The Latin terms i.e. and e.g. are often misused because they function similarly in sentences. Both abbreviations appear toward the middle of a sentence, within parentheses, and use periods between and after their two letters. For example,
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Note how a comma follows the period after “g,” which is standard practice for all Latin abbreviations. It’s also important to italicize all unabbreviated Latin phrases unless otherwise listed within Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. The exception to this rule is that it’s unnecessary to italicize Latin abbreviations.
Another important note for using Latin terms is that it’s improper to write out full Latin phrases if an abbreviation exists. This is because the abbreviated Latin form is typically more common and understood by general audiences.
Students using formal style guides such as APA, MLA, and Chicago should note–– all three guides advise against using Latin abbreviations unless shown within parentheses and used in the proper locations.
Examples of i.e. in a sentence
Instead of providing broad categories of examples, we use i.e. to inform the reader of an approximate example we intend to discuss. The following sentences examples provide examples of how to correctly and incorrectly use i.e. in a sentence:
Correct:The rate of pharmaceutical drug use (i.e., oxycodone) is expected to fall in the U.S. following the increased regulations on addictive drugs.
Incorrect:The rate of pharmaceutical drug use (i.e., oxycodone, benzodiazepines, or barbiturates) is expected to fall in the U.S. following the increased regulation on addictive pharmaceutical drugs.
The first example sentence uses i.e. correctly because it provides a specific example of what the author is talking about. The second sentence is technically incorrect because it leaves several options in the air surrounding what the author intends to discuss.
Examples of e.g. in a sentence
The use of e.g. is intended to provide a broader context of a writer’s main topic. Let’s take a look at a few example sentences of how to correctly use e.g.:
Correct:The student’s thesis, “The American black bear’s preference toward citrus fruit” (e.g., lemons, oranges, and limes) is not only misguided but inaccurate.
Incorrect:The student’s thesis, “The American black bear’s preference toward citrus fruit” (e.g., limes) is not only misguided but inaccurate.
Correct:Latin grammar rules regarding citations (e.g., circa, passim, and et al.) are useful for academic writing students.
Incorrect:Latin grammar rules regarding citations (e.g., et al.) are useful for academic writing students.
The two correct sentences using e.g. provide multiple examples of their parent topics, whether it be Latin abbreviations or citrus fruit. The incorrect sentences incorrectly use e.g. in place of where i.e. is better suited.
How to remember i.e. vs. e.g.?
While remembering the difference between i.e. and e.g. is tricky, we can use Latin abbreviations as mnemonic devices to teach writers how to use them correctly every time. For example,
e.g. can be thought of where E stands “for example.” i.e. can be used to think of I, as “in,” and E for “essence,” thus meaning = “In essence.”
In summary, when you think of e.g., remember how E is for example, and i.e. is for in essence.
FAQ: Related Terms
Latin abbreviations for academic writing
vs.: versus: “opposed to” or “against.”
Versus, or vs., is used in the abbreviated form within writing and headings to compare two main ideas or express conflict through two opposing subjects.
sc.: scilicet: “it is permitted to know.”
Similar to viz., sc. is also translated to “as if to say,” when referencing a source with an omitted word or phrase. This Latin term is replaced by the term “i.e.” in modern writing but is used historically to eliminate ambiguity. Using sc. is technically more specific than i.e., however, and has often followed lists where “i.e.” is used.
Endnotes and footnotes
cf.: confer: “compare.”
As a comparative term, cf. is used to compare conflicting arguments for readers to consider after reading several agreements toward the author’s main subject points. This Latin term is used as a tool to understand how the author’s arguments are supported despite existing opposition.
q.v.: quod vide: “which see,” or “for which see elsewhere.”
The term q.v. is found within reference book citations (e.g., a thesaurus) without page numbers and points readers in the direction of clarity elsewhere. While q.v. essentially tells readers to go “Google it,” its niche subject matter within reference texts allow publishers to assume readers are capable of finding more information on their own. These days it’s more common to read “for more information, see…”
et al.: et alii, et aliai, or et alia: “and others.”
Academic APA writers know et al. well, as it is standard to use while citing several authors within one bibliographic source. This Latin abbreviation is different than other terms because the first word is not abbreviated and does not require a period between et and al. Additionally, et al. uses three different gendered forms, as shown above.
True or false: decide whether or not each sentence is using the correct form of i.e. or e.g.:
Eating a wide variety of vegetables is important for a healthy diet–– e.g., carrots, celery, and spinach).
There were a few ridiculous gifts Ruth asked for her birthday (i.e., a pony and castle) but we bought her a bike instead.
Anyone with an air astrology sign (i.e., a Gemini) is likely to be less emotional.
All astrology signs (e.g., Capricorn, Aquarius, or Virgo) are based on the day and year somebody is born.
All universities with the lowest admission rates (i.e., below 10%) scored in the top 20 percentile.
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Alanna Madden is a freelance writer and editor from Portland, Oregon. Alanna specializes in data and news reporting and enjoys writing about art, culture, and STEM-related topics. I can be found on Linkedin.