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The Actual Difference Between i.e. and e.g.

Updated on November 13, 2016

Anyone who has tried their hand at writing might have come across some hurdles in the form of grammar, vocabulary and proper usage of words. I have had plenty of them. And one among these hurdles, which I have thankfully crossed, is the difference between i.e. and e.g.

It’s like Chinese and Japanese. For those who know these languages, the difference between them seems to be as obvious as night and day, but for those who are unfamiliar, it’s much more similar to dawn and dusk.

Both of these abbreviations seem to be doing the same thing. They both provide a clarification to something that has been described in the sentence before its usage, but the type of addition they provide to the sentence is what differs.

Usage of i.e. and e.g.

i.e. stands for “id est”, which is a Latin term that can be roughly translated to “that is”. As the actual meaning of the words are, i.e. is used to further your explanation by giving an extra piece of description. The description or explanation is about something mentioned in the previous sentence.

e.g. is the short form of “exempli gratia”, which is another Latin term that can be translated to “for example”, and it does exactly that. It gives one or more examples of something that was talked about in the previous sentence.

To learn Latin just to remember these words and their usage is definitely an overkill. So, in order to remember these two abbreviations and their usage, someone has been smart enough to turn these two into short forms of English words instead of Latin.

i.e. – in essence

e.g. – example given

Kudos to the one who came up with it.

Imagine that you are writing something about dogs. You might say, “A dog is a domestic animal, i.e. a dog is an animal that has been tamed by humans”. Here, you are stating that a dog is a domestic animal, and then you go on to explain what a ‘domestic animal’ is by using ‘i.e.’, thus clarifying your first sentence by adding another sentence to convey its meaning.

And then you go on to say, “Several breeds of dogs grow taller than 50 cm, e.g. Labrador Retriever, Great Dane”. Here, you are saying that some dogs grow taller than 50 cm and then go on to list some of the dogs that grow taller than 50 cm, thus providing examples to clarify your sentence. If you try to interchange the positions of i.e. and e.g. in these two sentences, you might see how wrong they sound.

Take another example,

“I am an omnivore, i.e. I eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian”.

Here the speaker is describing an ‘omnivore’.

“I have played all types of sports, e.g. Basketball, Football, Hockey”

Here, the speaker says that he has played all types of sports and then gives some examples of the sports that he has played.

Was that simple? Wait, there's more...

Everything would have been simple if this was the only usage of these two abbreviations. But there’s more. Another type of usage of i.e. and e.g. that confuses people often is when i.e. itself seems to be giving example instead of describing something. That is not true. i.e. does not give an example, it simply provides a single alternative to something you described previously, while e.g. gives examples in all cases.

To understand this, see the following example,

“I prefer only raw seafood, i.e. sushi.”

Here, the speaker says that they prefer only raw seafood and then clarifies what exactly they were referring to when they said ‘raw seafood’. They were referring to sushi, and nothing else. This sentence can also be told as,

“ I prefer only raw seafood, i.e. I prefer only sushi.”

What this means is that, even when it seems like they are giving examples of raw seafood, they are actually using i.e. to make the listener understand what exactly they were referring to when they say ‘raw seafood’.

“I eat all kinds of seafood, e.g. fish, lobster.”

Now this is where we are getting examples. The speaker says that he will eat any kind of seafood, and then provides a list of seafood as examples. It doesn’t list all the seafood that the speaker might be referring to, because he is only providing some examples.

This explanation might not be enough for you to entirely understand their differences, but I hope they don’t seem like naughty identical twins to you anymore, even if they do, keep at it and you will see the difference very soon.


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    • Mohammad Motasim profile image

      Mohammad Motasim 10 months ago

      If you want to learn more about Difference Between I.e and E.g, you can go their

    • profile image

      johngoem 11 months ago

      I never though about there origin

    • Rafa Baxa profile image

      Rafael Baxa 11 months ago

      Thanks a lot for your comment Andrew!

      I was just surfing through a forum on writing and I often came across people who were confused about this. And that's how this article was born. :)

    • andrewdavidlowen profile image

      Andrew Lowen 11 months ago from Fallbrook, CA

      Thanks for the explanation Rafael. I am very curious how you came up with this topic and decided to write about it? It's such a specific, minute caveat of grammatical mishaps.

      I never would have thought to ask the question. I've always used i.e. for both specifying my statement further AND for giving examples. I, honestly, have never used e.g. for anything. Very helpful. Only now I feel that I have to go over all my writing, scanning for i.e. and correcting my misuses. hahaha. That could take a very long time...

    • Rafa Baxa profile image

      Rafael Baxa 11 months ago

      Thank you so much for your comment Twilight Lawns! I am happy that you found the article well written!

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 11 months ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Thank you Rafael. this was a extremely well written Hub with all the information included, clearly and with easy to follow examples.

      I wish there were more like you who could write so clearly, keep to the point and not overstress the whole ideas.