The terms i.e. and e.g. have baffling tendencies. They used to confuse me as well, until I took it upon myself to look up the difference between them. For starters, they are not interchangeable. But quite often people make the mistake of thinking they are. However, they are very easily distinguishable.
i.e. is an abbreviation of a Latin phrase meaning id est, which translates literally into ‘that is.’ In English, it can commonly be used to mean ‘in other words,’ before elaborating on something previously stated but potentially unclear; i.e. a pseudo-definition. See what I did there?
Still confused? Let’s break it down.
Example: I really enjoy eating scones, i.e., a single-serving quick bread made with baking powder as a leavening agent.
Try replacing i.e. with ‘in other words’ for clarification: I really enjoy eating scones, [in other words], a single-serving quick bread made with baking powder as a leavening agent.
Though ‘in other words’ technically makes sense here, it doesn’t look or read quite right when written that way. But it comes in handy as a mnemonic.
(Disclaimer: I really do enjoy scones, a whole lot. In fact, I am currently gnawing my way through a chocolate chunk scone while typing this. Mmmm…
e.g. is an abbreviation of a Latin phrase meaning exempli gratia, which translates into ‘for the sake of example,’ or simply ‘for example.’ It is used to preface an example of something.
Example: I started a coin collection long ago. It’s got all kinds of coins in it, e.g., quarters, dimes, nickels, and even pennies.
Similarly to what we did with i.e., try replacing e.g. with ‘for example’ to clarify: I started a coin collection long ago. It’s got all kinds of coins in it, [for example], quarters, dimes, nickels, and even pennies.
In this case, you could write out ‘for example’ in place of e.g., but a semicolon should replace the comma that comes before it, since there would be two independent but related clauses. But the semicolon is something I’ll cover in another blog post some other time, so don’t worry about that for now if you’re unsure of its uses.
I hope I was able to clearly differentiate the terms i.e. and e.g. for you in this post; i.e., I hope this was helpful. Again, see what I did there? That was a poorly forced example; it is probably wise not to always follow in my footsteps. Pick your spots.
Have questions about linguistic devices? Leave them in a comment and I will either reply, or dedicate a new post to your inquiry. As always, thanks for reading.