Proofreading Tips: A Proofreader’s Guide to E.g. and I.e.

The terms e.g. and i.e. are common, especially in academic writing. As a proofreader, it’s important to know what they mean and how to use them. In this blog post, we give a basic introduction to e.g. and i.e., as well as some common errors to look out for when proofreading.

What Do E.g. and I.e. Mean?

These terms are similar, but they have importantly distinct uses:

  • The term e.g. is an abbreviation of the Latin exempli gratia, which means for example.
  • The term i.e. also comes from Latin and stands for id est, meaning that is to say.

The key difference in practice is that e.g. is used to introduce an example of something (or an incomplete list of examples of something). For instance:

I enjoy watching sitcoms (e.g. Dad’s Army and Friends).

Here, for instance, we give two examples of sitcoms after e.g., but we don’t imply that this is a complete list of every sitcom or a definition of the word sitcom.

The term i.e., meanwhile, is used to define or explain something:

I enjoy watching sitcoms (i.e. comedy shows with a continuing cast of characters).

More rarely, i.e. can be used to introduce a complete list of something:

A working week is usually five days (i.e. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday).

Here, for example, it might look like we’re giving examples in parentheses. But since the list is a complete list of all of the days that usually comprise a working week, it is more than just an example; it is instead a definition of terms or an explanation of what we mean by working week. And this is why we introduce it with the term i.e. rather than e.g.

But what errors should a proofreader look out for when they see these terms in a document? And what kinds of corrections should you make? Let’s take a look.

Common Error 1: Mixing Up E.g. and I.e.

The most common usage error is when a writer uses the wrong term, such as using e.g. to introduce an explanation or using i.e. to introduce an example. For instance:

Many animals can be domesticated (i.e. cats, dogs and birds).

Here, i.e. is clearly the wrong term because cats, dogs and birds is not a definition or an exhaustive list of domestic animals. As such, we would correct it to say e.g. instead:

Many animals can be domesticated (e.g. cats, dogs and birds).

Most of the time, this type of error (and the correction required) should be obvious. But it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between an incomplete list of examples (which would require using e.g.) and an exhaustive list intended as an explanation (which would require using i.e.), especially when dealing with unfamiliar or technical subject matter.

In cases like this, though, you can leave a comment for the client explaining the difference between i.e. and e.g. and suggesting that they check their usage is correct.

Common Error 2: E.g. and Etc.

Another common error is adding etc. after e.g. For example:

Citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, grapefruits, etc.) are high in vitamin C.

This is redundant as both e.g. and etc. indicate an incomplete list of examples. To correct an error like this, then, we would need to cut one term:

Citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, grapefruits) are high in vitamin C.

Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, etc.) are high in vitamin C.

How to Punctuate E.g. and I.e.

In terms of punctuation, both e.g. and i.e. are usually written with full stops between the letters, but some style guides suggest using the unpunctuated eg and ie forms instead.

In addition, some style guides suggest adding a comma after e.g. and i.e. For instance:

I enjoy watching sitcoms (e.g., Dad’s Army and Friends).

I enjoy watching sitcoms (i.e., comedy shows with a continuing cast of characters).

This extra comma is slightly more common in US English than in UK English (or other dialects based on UK English, such as Australian English). But it is largely a matter of preference.

As a proofreader, then, you’ll need to be aware of:

  • How your client’s style guide suggests punctuating e.g. and i.e.
  • Whether these terms are punctuated consistently in your client’s work.

If they don’t have a style guide to follow, then consistency is the most important thing.

Capitalisation and Italicisation

Finally, as a proofreader, you should also check that e.g. and i.e. are presented correctly in your clients’ writing. In particular, keep in mind that:

  • Neither term is usually capitalised (unless at the beginning of a sentence or in title case).
  • Neither term is usually italicised, despite the widespread convention of italicising Latin terms in English writing, because they’re extremely common in modern English.

There may be some room for variation here, so always check your client’s style guide. But, generally, if you see these terms capitalised or italicised, they will need correcting.

Becoming a Proofreader

If you’re interested in the finer details of English punctuation, a career in proofreading might be for you! And there’s no better way to pursue this than by taking our Becoming A Proofreader course. Check out our free trial today to learn more.

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