What i.e. and e.g. stand for
e.g. is the abbreviation for the Latin words exempli gratia meaning “for example” or “such as.”
i.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin words id est, meaning “that is” or “in other words.”
Memory aids to help you remember
e.g. stands for “for example,” so remember “eg-zample” to see whether you’re following with an example.
i.e. stands for “in other words,” so see if what you’re writing fits with “I explain” for the first letters “I e.”
Why are there Latin abbreviations in English?
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the English language was markedly divided into two languages: the common language of the people and the language of the upper class, academics, and lawyers. Anyone who with a pedigree spoke Latin and sprinkled his or her writing with Latin words. Latin words were the sign of a scholar and a professional.
Some of those Latin sprinklings hold on today, although they’re being swept out of business writing because business writing focuses on being clear, not on showing that the writer is part of society’s upper crust. The Latin abbreviations have held on, even though today businesspeople don’t know what they stand for. To write clearly, substitute plain English words for the Latin abbreviations.
Examples of the Latin abbreviations to avoid follow. The abbreviations don’t need to be in italics, but the Latin words they stand for must be in italics.
e.g. is an abbreviation for the Latin words exempli gratia meaning “for example” or “such as.” Eliminate “e.g.” by using plain English words.
NOT: Insert important information (e.g. time, date, location).
INSTEAD: Insert important information, such as time, date, and location.
NOT: Consider a location with more inviting attractions—e.g., beaches, amusement parks, shops.
INSTEAD: Consider a location with more inviting attractions—for example, beaches, amusement parks, or shops.
This abbreviation is for the Latin words id est, meaning “that is” or “in other words.” Use the plain English words “that is to say,” “what I mean is,” or “in other words.”
NOT: Most homes have hard water (i.e. high mineral content).”
INSTEAD: Most homes have hard water, meaning water with a high mineral content.
NOT: If you are young (i.e. born after 1990), you can’t envision a world without computers.
INSTEAD: If you are young (meaning born after 1990), you can’t envision a world without computers. Better yet, just write “If you were born after 1990, you can’t envision a world without computers.”
Etcetera is the Latin word meaning unspecified additional things or people. Most business writers use it to mean “I can’t think of anything else but I’m sure there is more.” Use “such as” before the list or use specific English words so the readers know what you’re referring to. Write “or any other products we might sell” or “and other rooms in our building.”
NOT: “We’ll have to contact the owners, the buyers, the bank, etc.
INSTEAD: “We’ll have to contact the owners, the buyers, the bank, and other parties involved.”
NOT: “Our diets should be filled with healthy foods—vegetables, fruits, etc.
INSTEAD: “Our diets should be filled with healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits.”
Latin words to eliminate from your writing
There is a long list of Latin words that have outstayed their welcome. Use the plain English words instead. Examples are bona fide, circa, de facto, erratum, caveat emptor, in situ, per, per capita, per se, re, status quo, terra firma, verbatim, and versus (or vs.).
You can bring your business writing into the twenty-first century by using modern English instead of the Latin that was used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.