23 May What You Didn’t Know About I.E. and E.G.
Awardco Writing Tips #1
Nothing can ruin your credibility in business writing quite like using improper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Avoid those mistakes at all costs. Even if that cost is hiring a proofreader and providing them work benefits. Some people don’t need a proofreader. Some people REALLY do.
“It’s ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C,’ but what if I believe my fierce friend’s feisty collie died when he received their receipt from a weird foreign heist?”
Look, we get it. No one LIKES being corrected, and we grammar pedants don’t particularly LIKE correcting people, but it must be done sometimes. It’s literally our job in some cases. So in an attempt to help people avoid common mistakes in their business writing (and so that you can avoid that judgmental stare that people give you when you get it wrong) we’ve started this series of articles.
First up: how and when to use “e.g.” and “i.e.” properly.
You normally see these in front of very short lists, even if you’re not sure exactly why. So if you’re planning on using a very short list in your writing, it’s safe to assume you can probably use one of these.
To know which one to use, though, you’ll need a little lesson in Latin, since both of these terms are just abbreviations of Latin terms that were commonly used a few centuries ago.
E.g. is short for “exempli gratia,” or “for example.”
I.e. is short for “id est,” literally meaning “that is.”
The difference is mostly just how specific each one is. And their usage will vary depending on what you’re describing.
So, if you’re spouting off a few different examples of something, but not giving a complete list, you’d use “e.g.” to illustrate your case:
“I like lots of cheeses, e.g., cheddar, muenster, havarti, EZ, etc.”
Now, there are WAY more cheeses than the few that were given as examples. But remember, the use of “e.g.” is just to give a taste, just a sample of the bigger list.
Compare that to when you need to name a very specific number of things to make a point. The list is no longer one of examples, but exactly what you mean, nothing more or less. Like a picky kid who exclusively eats one type of mozzarella:
“I like one kind of cheese, i.e. string cheese.”
“This is worse than Arby’s.”
Those literal meanings should help clarify when you’d use each one. But who can always remember literal meanings of archaic Latin terms, am I right?
So here are two silly little mnemonic devices you can use to help you keep the two straight:
E.g. = eggs.
When you’re making yourself an omelette (du fromage?) you only need a few eggs, not the whole carton. Think of “e.g.” as the three eggs you need. If really, really bad puns help you remember it, then think of saying “E.g. for eggsample.” But please never say it out loud, because people’s eyebrows can only go so high in response to horrible jokes, and this one might hurt someone.
This should work unless you’re literally Ron Swanson requesting every single egg the diner has.
I.e. = recipe.
There’s an “I” and an “E” but no “G” in “recipe.” Think of following a recipe exactly to the letter to make sure your dish comes out precisely as it should.
Got it? Great. Now go out there and use them correctly! Let us know what topics you’d like to see covered in new articles by dropping a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to use Awardco for your Employee Recognition needs.