Q. My boss uses “i.e.” and “e.g.” interchangeably. I’m not sure when to use which, but I know they are different. What do they mean? And how do I explain the difference to her without ruffling her feathers?
A. These two are often confused, partly because both are abbreviations for Latin terms unfamiliar to most people, and partly because both introduce additional information that adds meaning to a sentence. They are different, though, and here’s how.
Use “i.e.” (id est) as a substitute for “that is.” Trot it out when you’re about to clarify your point with some specifics.
Frederica has unusual taste in pizza toppings, i.e., marshmallows and peanut butter. The “i.e.” tells us that she’s doesn’t necessarily like every crazy flavor combo, but she is definitely a fan of marshmallows and peanut butter. (If this sounds delicious to you, here is a recipe.)
Griselda’s mom always expected her to go to a good college, i.e., one in the Ivy League. Griselda’s mom may only have said “a good college,” but Griselda knew her mother specifically meant an Ivy League school.
To remember what “i.e.” means, you can pretend it stands for “in essence.”
Use “e.g.” (exempli gratia) when you mean “for example.” It introduces a non-finite list.
Amanda has many diverse interests, e.g., weaving, baseball, ballroom dancing and welding. We’re not listing all of her many and varied hobbies, just giving you examples to show their diversity.
To remember what “e.g.” means, think of the made-up word “egsample.”
As for telling your boss, here’s a handy article about correcting someone politely, humbly and usefully with the least amount of feather ruffling. It’s a good read, too.
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