Column: On i.e. and e.g.


Question: Dear Jordan, greetings. One of my many writing pet peeves is the incorrect usage of i.e. and e.g. which seems to be fairly common although I would have thought someone writing a column about grammar would not make this mistake.  You have done it several times in the past, but twice in the same sentence is really too much (in “Current in Carmel,” June 24).” – (Lee Ray, Carmel)

Answer: You know, most of my friends know I write this column. On the odd occasion they catch me in a slip-up – a word typed too hastily and misspelled, or what have you – they love to trot out this line: “Has the Grammar Guy been Grammar Guy’d?”

Well today, it seems the Grammar Guy has been Grammar Guy’d.

Consider this my mea culpa, Lee: I am guilty of playing fast and loose with i.e. and e.g. With your help, however, I hope to reform.

As Lee went on to point out in his letter, i.e. is an abbreviation for the Latin id est, which translates to “that is” (to say), and is used to clarify an idea. E.g., the abbreviation for the Latin exempli gratia, means “for example.”

Since my offending sentence is a bit too long to reproduce here, consider this example: “I’d like to get a more fuel efficient car.” We could add examples of cars we’re considering like so: “e.g., a Hyundai or a Prius.” Or, we could clarify our idea of fuel efficiency a little more: “i.e., something I don’t have to fill up every week.”

The takeaways this week are that e.g. offers examples for its antecedent clause, whereas i.e. restates or clarifies its antecedent, and that the two are not interchangeable.

Now, for my act of contrition, I’m off to read the comment section of a news site. Heaven help me.