Two of the most commonly misused abbreviations in the English language are i.e. and e.g. If you would like to use these abbreviations in your writing, but aren’t sure which one is correct, don’t fear! We have put together a guide to using these abbreviations correctly.
Background of i.e. and e.g.
First, let’s take a look at the use of each of these abbreviations. Both of these abbreviations come from Latin phrases: i.e. stands for id est, which translates roughly to “that is”; while e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example.” An easy way to remember which phrase means what is to match the letters. I.e. starts with an “i,” which is the first letter of is, so i.e. means “that is.” You can test the use of this abbreviation by substituting “in other words” into your sentence. Alternatively, e.g. starts with an “e,” which is the first letter of example, so e.g. means “for example.” You can test this abbreviation by substituting “for example” into your sentence.
How to Know When to Use i.e. and e.g. in a Sentence
When you are including i.e. and e.g. in your sentences, you will want to be sure that you are using them correctly. We have included an example of the correct way to use each abbreviation below.
Example of the use of i.e.
- We will continue to offer our standard discount, i.e., 10% off.
Example of the use of e.g.
- We will also offer additional, special discount, e.g., 20% off for new customers and 15% off for referring a friend.
You can also include parentheses around the abbreviation and list. We have included examples of this below.
Example of the use of i.e. with parentheses
- We will continue to offer our standard discount (i.e., 10% off).
Example of the use of e.g. with parentheses
- We will also offer an additional, special discount (e.g., 20% off for new customers and 15% off for referring a friend).
Tips for Using i.e. and e.g.
As with anything in the English language, there are tips that you must keep in mind when using these abbreviations. We have made a list of these tips and rules below.
Do not italicize abbreviations.
You do not want to italicize these abbreviations, as they are considered standard English words even though they are Latin in origin.
Use a period after each letter of the abbreviation
You will want to acknowledge the fact that these words are abbreviations and be sure to include a period after each letter of the abbreviation.
Use a comma after the abbreviation
This rule is tricky. Most American style guides either recommend or require the use of a comma after the abbreviations, while many British style guides do not include the use of the comma. Be sure to keep in mind which country is the target for your writing when evaluating this rule.
Use a comma or parenthesis before the abbreviation unless it begins a sentence
You will want to use either a comma or parenthesis as a way of introducing the phrase that begins with i.e. or e.g. If you choose parentheses, be sure to include a comma after the abbreviation.
If a sentence begins with one of the abbreviations, use a comma after the abbreviations
If a sentence begins with one of these abbreviations, it will be considered an introductory phrase. As such, you will want to be sure to include a comma after it.
If these abbreviations are used within a sentence without parentheses, use a comma before and after the abbreviation
If you are using i.e. or e.g. in a sentence and not including a set of parentheses, you will need to separate that clause from the rest of the sentence. To do this, you would include a comma before the clause, and possibly after, depending on the style guide that you are following.
If you must start a sentence with i.e. or e.g., capitalize the first letter of the abbreviation
Since this abbreviation will be the first letter in your sentence, you will want to be sure that you are capitalizing the first letter. When possible, we recommend avoiding these abbreviations to start a sentence, as they will sound grammatically awkward.
Do not use etc. at the end of a list following e.g.
You will want to avoid using etc. at the end of a list that begins with e.g., as they both indicate that your list is not complete. As we mentioned previously, e.g. means “for example,” and etc. translates to “and the rest.” Both of these meanings will show the reader that your list is not a comprehensive list.
Final Thoughts on i.e. and e.g.
I.e. and e.g. can be useful tools to enhance your writing. When determining which one to use, remember that you can substitute “in other words” for i.e., and “for example” for e.g. You can be sure to match the letters of these substitutions to the first letter of the abbreviation.
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