I took a lot of English classes in high school and college, along with French classes, Italian classes, and German classes. I even took some Spanish classes a few years ago. One class I’ve never taken, though, is Latin class. So, for this week’s post, I’m exploring the differences between those little abbreviations that we use to make a point, e.g. when to use i.e. vs. e.g., both abbreviations for Latin words.
First, the basics – i.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin “id est” which roughly translates to “that is.” E.g. is the abbreviation for the Latin “exempli gratia,” which means “for example.”
Second, when to use i.e. – i.e. should be used as a clarification. Example: “I’ve been getting my favorite greens in my CSA this summer, i.e., kale, rainbow chard, and bok choy.” In this example, I’m giving you the three types of my favorite greens that have been showing up in my CSA – that is, in other words, in essence – kale, rainbow chard, and bok choy.
Third, when to use e.g. – e.g. should be used to introduce an example. “I’ve been getting some of my favorite greens in my CSA this summer, e.g., kale, rainbow chard, and bok choy.” The key difference here? I’m giving you examples, not a finite list. I also happen to like spinach, red leaf lettuce, and napa cabbage.
The nitty-gritty of the punctuation
These are abbreviations, so periods should always be included (and not listed as “ie” or “eg”). Do you use a comma after i.e. or e.g.? I always have and a quick rundown of various style guides supports my long-standing habit (thanks to Grammar Girl for the quick and easy reference):
- Chicago Manual of Style: A comma is usually used after i.e. and e.g.
- Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: Commas are preferable/optional after the abbreviations.
- The Columbia Guide to Standard American English: [Editors] require a comma after the second period [in these abbreviations].
- The Guide to Grammar and Writing: The comma [following i.e. and e.g.] makes good sense.
- Lynch Guide to Grammar: Both abbreviations should be followed by a comma.
- Fowler’s Modern English Usage: Commas do not usually follow i.e. (No comment on e.g.)
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.