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How To Use "i.e.", "e.g.", And "etc." Correctly

Many English speakers—both native speakers and learners—have difficulty with non-English terms that are commonly used in English. Latin terms, in particular, can be confusing; few people know Latin because it is a dead language. Most of the Latin terms that are used in English use confined to legal and scientific contexts, but a few are common in everyday use as well. Three of these are abbreviations: "etc.", "e.g.", and "i.e."; in this post, I explain how to use these three common abbreviations.

How To Use Common Latin Abbreviations: e.g., i.e., and etc.

etc.

This stands for the Latin phrase et cetera, which means (roughly) "and the rest" in English. It is used to end a list, and it indicates that there are other, similar items in the list (but which aren't written out). In other words, if you are giving a partial list and want to indicate that the items you've written aren't the only items in the category, end the list with "etc."


One note is that you should not ever say "and etc."; that is redundant because the et in et cetera already means "and." You should always put a comma before "etc." to set it off from the last list item (even if you are not using the serial comma), and you should always include the period at the end (though don't use two consecutive periods if "etc." ends a sentence). In addition, you'll want to use "etc." either at the end of a sentence or in parentheses; it can be a bit awkward to read when placed in the middle of a sentence.


Here are some examples of incorrect uses of "etc." (the correct versions are given afterward):

We will need to buy plates, cups, etc. for the company picnic. Park rangers lead tours, offer assistance to visitors, protect wildlife, and etc. The rainforest is home to numerous amphibian species (frogs, toads, newts etc).

Now, here are correct versions of those examples:

We will need to buy supplies (plates, cups, etc.) for the company picnic. Park rangers lead tours, offer assistance to visitors, protect wildlife, etc. The rainforest is home to numerous amphibian species (frogs, toads, newts, etc.).

e.g.

This stands for exempli gratia, which roughly translates as "for example" or "for instance." As you might guess from that translation, it is used to introduce one or more examples. To ensure readability, always put "e.g." and the example(s) in parentheses or between em dashes to set the example(s) off from the main text.


Both "etc." and "e.g." can be used to indicate a partial list. However, unlike "etc." (which always comes after a list), "e.g." comes before a list of examples. If you are listing more than one example after "e.g.", be sure to also include a conjunction (usually "and" or "or") before the last item. In addition, because they have similar meanings, you never need both. When giving a list of examples, you can use either "etc." or "e.g.", but you cannot use both. (Also, "e.g." is more restrictive, as it is only used with lists of examples; don't use it for other lists.)


As far as the punctuation, in most styles, "e.g." always uses both periods because both words of the Latin phrase are abbreviated. However, some styles use neither period; these styles are usually in U.K. English, but AMA Style also omits the periods. If you are using a style guide, be sure to check its preferences. In addition, you should always use a comma after "e.g.", just as you would always put a comma after the phrase "for instance."


Here are some incorrect uses of "e.g.":

I love many breakfast cereals, e.g., Corn Flakes and Oat Clusters. "Euro-style" games (Settlers of Cataan, e.g.) have become very popular. Everyone should learn an instrument (e.g. flute, piano, drums).

Now, here are the correct versions of those sentences:

I love many breakfast cereals (e.g., Corn Flakes and Oat Clusters). "Euro-style" games (e.g., Settlers of Cataan) have become very popular. Everyone should learn an instrument (e.g., flute, piano, and drums).

i.e.

Finally, we have "i.e.", which stands for the Latin phrase id est—roughly translated as "in other words." It is used to restate the preceding text in different words. The most common uses for this are as follows:

  • to explain technical terms using more common phrases

  • to explain slang terms using more formal phrases

  • to provide a category for a complete list (or a complete list for a category).

See the examples below for a better idea.


The rules for "i.e." are similar to those for "e.g." For instance, it should always be used in parentheses and should always be followed by a comma. You'll also always use both periods—unless your style guide says to use neither (see the "e.g." section above).


Be sure not to confuse "i.e." and "e.g.", though! If you are giving a single example, "e.g." (not "i.e.") is correct. If you have named a category, you can use "i.e." to provide a complete list for that category, as that is equivalent to restating the category's name. However, if any of the items are left out of the list, then you need "e.g." instead, as you are only giving examples.


Here are some incorrect examples:

I am taking a "staycation" next week, i.e. resting at home instead of working. Everyone should take precautions to avoid exposure to COVID-19 (e.g., the coronavirus). I have visited every state in New England (e.g., Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island).

Here are the correct versions of those examples:

I am taking a "staycation" next week (i.e., resting at home instead of working). Everyone should take precautions to avoid exposure to COVID-19 (i.e., the coronavirus). I have visited every state in New England (i.e., Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island).

That's all for now. If you have any questions about how to use these Latin abbreviations—or any other Latin terms—please let me know in the comments or via email (info@elevationediting.com). I'm always happy to help. If you'd rather have an expert editor fix any problems in your writing, then you can always request a quote at ElevationEditing.com.

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