‘I.e.’ vs ‘E.g’ and the Confusion of Tiny Abbreviations
In a battle of the abbreviations who wins the honor of representing an example? The answer is… it depends on where the battle takes place and what exactly the battle is over. So pick your battles accordingly.
When should I use “i.e.”?
There is a specific time and situation in which the term i.e. should be used mid-sentence. When to use it depends upon its origins.
The Etymology of i.e.
The term i.e. is an abbreviation for the Latin words id est. It stands for the concept of elaborating upon a speaker’s point. The literal translation of id est is somewhat akin to “that is” or “that is to say.”
Although examples can be used to make points clearer, the term i.e. does not refer to examples. Think of it this way, clarification is an umbrella term that includes further description, analogies, and examples. The term i.e. refers to all those clarifications.
Use the term i.e. for further clarification, not when providing a list of examples.
For example, when you want to provide more information about something, use i.e. as in the following:
“I am headed to the mall to go shopping, i.e. to purchase more sportswear.”
When should I use “e.g.”?
While i.e. shouldn’t be used to list examples, e.g. should. This term is best utilized mid-sentence for a very specific type of clarification. This usage is determined by the original meaning of the abbreviation.
The Etymology of e.g.
The term e.g. then literally means to provide information strictly for giving examples. It is put within sentences to notify readers or listeners that some examples will follow, although e.g. doesn’t mean it will be a comprehensive list.
The examples listed after e.g. could serve to clarify a speaker’s point and in this way, it is easily confused with i.e., yet e.g. is more specific than that.
Use e.g. to notify your audience that you will be providing some specific examples
For example, when your goal is to give a list, use e.g. as in the following:
“I like to play many sports, e.g. soccer, basketball, and weightlifting.”
So, to answer the question of whether i.e. or e.g. would win a battle of the abbreviations – yes and no. They are both winners in their own right and serve specific purposes for communicating information. So once again, you can thank our old friend Latin for its influence on our language.