Professional Style

I.E. vs. E.G.

August 2008
Spot the Error

As of today, you can get office supplies (i.e., pens, paper, toner, file folders) on the first floor in administrative services.

The abbreviation i.e. stands for the Latin term id est. But who really cares. What’s important to remember is that, in English, i.e. is short for that is. When used properly, an i.e. phrase will restate or clarify what’s just been said. For example:

Before returning from break, food servers must wash their hands with soap and warm water for approximately 15 seconds (i.e., the length of time it takes to sing the A-B-C song).

The “office supplies” sentence above would be correct if the only supplies available were pens, paper, toner, and file folders. In that case, the i.e. phrase would be clarifying which office supplies can be obtained from administrative services.

The items listed, however, are probably just a sampling of what’s available. In which case, the author should have used e.g. instead of i.e. E.g. is the abbreviation for the Latin term exempli gratia, which means for example. Or, as I like to pronounce it … EG-zample.

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