When to Use the Latin Abbreviations i.e. and e.g.

Write Like a Roman, the Right Way

Latin writing
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The Latin abbreviations "i.e." and "e.g." are often confused. Used incorrectly, they achieve the exact opposite of the writer's intention, which is to appear learned by marshaling a Latin phrase for an English one not all that much bigger.

What Do I.e. and E.g. Mean?

"I.e." stands simply for "that is," or, in Latin, "id est." "I.e." takes the place of the English phrases "that is," "in other words," "namely," or "that is."

"E.g." means "for example" and comes from the Latin expression exempli gratia, "for the sake of an example." "E.g." is used in expressions similar to "including," when you are not intending to list everything that is being discussed.

Examples 

I.e.

I'm going to the place where I work best, i.e., the coffee shop.

[There is only one place that I am claiming is best for my work. By using "i.e.", I am telling you I am about to specify it.]

E.g.

At the places where I work best, e.g., Starbucks, I have none of the distractions I have at home.

[There are lots of coffee shops I like, but Starbucks is an example that's known to most people.]

The abbreviation e.g. can be used with more than one example. However, don't pile on multiple examples and add "etc." 

I like coffee shops, e.g., Starbucks and Seattle's Best, for getting work done.

[not "coffee shops, e.g. Starbucks and Seattle's Best, etc."]

I.e

The most beautiful human in Greek mythology, i.e., Leda's daughter Helen, may have had a unibrow, according to a 2009 book on Helen I'm reading.

[Helen, whose beauty launched the Trojan War, is considered the most beautiful woman from Greek mythology. There is no contender.]

E.g.

The children of Leda, e.g., Castor and Pollux, were born in pairs.

[Leda gestated/brooded multiple pairs of children, so Castor and Pollux are an example, as would be Helen and Clytemnestra.]

Abbreviations, Italics, and I.e. and E.g.

The abbreviations i.e. and e.g. are common enough that they do not require italicization. Both abbreviations take periods and are followed by a comma in American English. European sources may not use the periods or the comma.

Capitalization of I.e. and E.g.

It's rare to see i.e. or e.g. at the start of a sentence. But if you must, you must also capitalize the initial letter of the abbreviation. Grammarians will argue this kind of minutiae all day, so deploy them at the head of the sentence only if you must.

Other Common Abbreviations