The abbreviations e.g. and i.e. are confused with each other all the time, but they needn’t be. Often one is used in place of the other simply because the author doesn’t know the difference between the two – or even that a difference exists at all.
The key to differentiating between the two lies simply in understanding their non-abbreviated equivalents. Both are from the Latin:
e.g. – exempli gratia – for the sake of example (for example)
i.e. – id est – that is
Each of these should only be used if their full meaning as shown above could reasonably be substituted in their place. For example (e.g.):
I like to support all the London clubs, e.g. Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham.
I only support the most successful London club, i.e. Arsenal.
The two meanings are distinctly different and could even end up changing the meaning of the sentence, so care should be taken. It is helpful to think of i.e. as the more exclusive term; anything that comes after it is likely to be the only thing(s) to which the rest of the sentence applies. With e.g., on the other hand, whatever comes afterwards is merely an example of many more things to which the sentence could apply. Here is an example where use of one or the other changes the meaning of the sentence:
I’m inviting all my family to the wedding, e.g. my grandparents and my sister. (‘For example’ – many family members are invited, of which the grandparents and sister are examples)
I’m inviting all my family to the wedding, i.e. my grandparents and my sister. (‘That is’ – the grandparents and sister are the person’s only family)
So whenever you come to use e.g. or i.e., pause for a moment and think about what it actually stands for – and then make sure you choose the correct one!
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