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eg or ie?

April 8, 2014

Perhaps you need to mark as many essays as I do to notice this, but I’ve become aware of a growing confusion between the abbreviations eg and ie. Actually it is not so much of a confusion, more that students simply seem to have stopped using eg and are using ie instead, under the impression that it means the same. So they write things like “in the contemporary dystopian children’s novel, ie Mortal Engines…”, as if Mortal Engines is the only contemporary dystopian children’s novel there is. I’m sure none of my readers needs this explaining, but I’ll explain it anyway: eg means “for example” (the abbreviation is short for the Latin phrase exempli gratia), while ie means “that is” (short for the Latin id est). So eg is used for one possible example out of several, while ie exhausts the possibilities. One could say: “The Spanish-speaking countries, eg Mexico and Argentina…”; but if you used ie there you would have to list every single one of them. I’m not sure why ie is gaining ground in this way. Perhaps because it’s just slightly less in common use than eg, and so it feels slightly more scholarly and impressive to use in an essay. Of course if its overuse continues this reason will cease to operate.

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One Comment
  1. Peter Howell permalink

    Mate, my old History master insisted on ‘e.g.,’ or ‘i.e.,’, but also insisted that neither was used in essays. To this day I’ve always trusted Mr. Sparrow unquestioningly, so I’ve never looked it up – but wasn’t he correct?!

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