Common Confusion: i.e. & e.g.

With the help of two little Latin abbreviations, business writing can be smoother, clearer and more successful, especially when detailing lists.

I.e. and e.g. are, however, easy to mistake for one another and use incorrectly. Do you know the difference?

  • The abbreviation i.e. derives from the Latin phrase id est, meaning that is or in other words.
  • E.g. derives from exempli gratia, meaning for example.

3 rules to keep in mind: (1) When writing, American English prefers the use of a comma after the abbreviation, while British English does not. (2) These abbreviations are usually enclosed within parentheses, since they denote a secondary clause. (3) Since these Latin abbreviations have become common English phrases, there’s no need to italicize them. Take a look at these examples:

  • The updated filtration system removes more particulate matter (e.g., dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander) than any other model currently available.
  • GreenClean 1900 (i.e., the air filter developed in 2011) removes more particulate matter than any other model currently available.

Now it’s your turn. Determine the right abbreviation for these sentences: 

  • Going beyond the Golden Rule (___, do unto others as you would have them do unto you), inter-cultural competency training teaches employees to learn how the other person wants to be treated, and treat them accordingly.
  • Our department prefers more frequent, informal engagement initiatives (___, lunchtime book discussions, question-and-answer sessions over coffee, afternoon walk club) over weekend retreats.

How do you remember the difference between i.e. and e.g.? What other abbreviations or words do you frequently confuse with one another?

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