“i.e. or e.g.?” – the Results of a Staffroom Discussion

20 10 2010

Knowledge and understanding comes to us in many ways. As teachers, we are aware of an array of learning styles and multiple levels of learning. These days, I find myself being  fascinated by how quickly teachers can become students again when it comes to their own personal development. It’s quite encouraging, actually.

A point was raised in our Staffroom last week: “Students are confusing the terms ‘i.e’ and ‘e.g.’ on a regular basis.” I wasn’t aware that there were rules governing the use of this and so I  naively asked, “What’s the difference?”  I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one in the room that had the same question.

A lively, (but scholarly) debate ensued forcing each of the participants to consult their sources and report back to the group. When is it proper to use “e.g.” and when should the writer use “i.e.” instead? Here is what we learned:

The picture above isn’t entirely correct. It should actually have a period after the “e” as well as the “g” since it is an abbreviation for the latin, “Exampli gratia” or “an example for free”. Use this if you are wanting to introduce one or more possibilities among many.

“I like root vegetables, e.g. potatoes and carrots.” (Potatoes and carrots are examples of many types of root vegetables.)

On the other hand, “i.e.” stands for id est which means “that is”. Use i.e. when you are introducing an explanation of what you mean.

“I like root vegetables; i.e. the ones that grow underground.” (It is used to reword a sentence or provide an alternate explanation). Essentially, i.e. means “in other words.”

See the difference?

So to recap, e.g. and i.e. are both Latin abbreviations. Both introduce additional information to a sentence, but e.g. offers an example while i.e. explains or rewords. If you can replace the abbreviation with “for example” then use e.g. If you can replace it with “in other words” or “that is,” use i.e.

To those who are seeking  to improve their English usage . . . you’re welcome.

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