Cozy nook/shutterstockHave you ever written a sentence like this? “On my ice cream sundae, I always like to add extra toppings, i.e., crushed nuts.” We know, it’s hard to think about using proper grammar when you’ve got ice cream on the mind. But, news flash—this sentence is wrong, and no one is getting any ice cream (sigh).
One of the biggest errors people make in their writing is misusing the Latin abbreviations “i.e.” and “e.g.” E.g. stands for exempli gratia and means “for example.” I.e. is the abbreviation for id est, which translates to “that is.”
(These are other grammar mistakes you’ve most likely been making.)
That being said, “i.e.” is not used for listing examples—it’s used to clarify a statement. An easy way to remember the correct way to use “i.e” is thinking of it as “in essence.” It’s used incorrectly in the sentence above because by using “i.e.” you are declaring that crushed nuts are the only sundae topping that exists. That’s false (thank god). The correct sentence would be, “On my ice cream sundae I always like to add extra toppings, e.g., crushed nuts.”
The correct way to use “i.e.” is to explain what you just said but in a different way. For example, “My favorite type of ice cream sundae is a banana split, i.e., three scoops of ice cream served in between a cut open banana.”
You should use “e.g.” when the list that follows is infinite. We used “e.g.” in the first example sentence because there are infinite amounts of ice cream toppings. Another way to write the sentence could be, “On my ice cream sundae I always like to add extra toppings, e.g., crushed nuts, sprinkles, cherries, and chocolate chips.”
“I.e.” and “e.g.” can be used with either commas or parenthesis. Therefore, you could also write the first sentence like this: “On my ice cream sundae I always like to add extra toppings (e.g. crushed nuts).”
Wow! That was a lot of information packed into six short paragraphs. If you want the CliffsNotes version just remember…
E.g. = for example = “egg xamples” = infinite list of possibilities
I.e. = that is = “in essence” = finite list
That’s enough grammar for one day. To take some of the load off, these are grammar rules you can ignore.