Tag Archives: grammar facts

When to Use I.E. Versus E.G.

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Now You KnowYou should know when to use “i.e.” and when to use “e.g.”

Many people use these interchangeably, but as you look into what “i.e.” and “e.g.” actually mean, you start to see how they are distinct.  Specifically, “i.e.” is an abbreviation for the Latin “id est”, more or less meaning “that is”.  “E.g.”, on the other hand, is an abbreviation for the Latin “exempli gratia”, meaning “for the sake of example”, or the easier to remember shortened version, “for example”.

As a general rule, if you can substitute in “for example” where you’ve used “e.g.”, you are probably using it correctly.  Likewise, if you can substitute in “that is” where you’re using “i.e.”, you are also probably using it correctly.

One way to remember what “i.e.” and “e.g.” actually mean is to notice that “i.e.” starts with an “i”, as does the second word in “that is”.  Further, “e.g.” starts with an “e”, as does the second word in “for example”.

The key distinction here with “i.e.” versus “e.g.” is that with “e.g.” you are simply stating one or more examples, of which there could be many more items that you didn’t include.  With “i.e.”, you aren’t talking about anything but what you specifically say.

So to illustrate the difference between “i.e.” and “e.g.”, let’s look at a specific example:

I love sports, e.g., baseball, basketball, and tennis.

I love sports, i.e., baseball, basketball, and tennis.

In the first sentence, the use of “e.g.” (for example) implies that there are other sports besides baseball, basketball, and tennis that I love.  In the second sentence, the fact that I used “i.e.” (that is)  indicates that the only sports I love are baseball, basketball, and tennis.

If you’re still having trouble remembering the distinction with “that is”, another tip from Grammar Girl is to throw out the Latin definition altogether and just think of “i.e.” as, “in other words”.  So, “I love sports, in other words, baseball, basketball, and tennis.”  So to sum up,  “e.g” = “E” = “Example” | “i.e.” = “I” = “In other words”.

Another potential bugaboo when it comes to the use of “i.e.” and “e.g.” is whether or not to put a comma after them when using them in a sentence.  What to do here is somewhat personal preference, as well as what side of the pond you are on. Most American English writing style guides do recommend including the comma (e.g., Chicago Manual of Style and the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation).

You can see why this would be the case when you go back to the meaning of “i.e.” (that is) and “e.g.” (for example).  For example, you wouldn’t exclude the comma after the preceding “example” in this sentence.  That being said, you might think it looks messy to have a comma following a period, so some American English writers elect not to include it.

On the other hand, most British English stylistic guides, such as OED, state that you should not put a comma after “e.g.” or “i.e.”  Further, they also recommend that you never capitalize the “e” or the “i”, even when starting a sentence with “i.e.” or “e.g.”  This is contrary to many American English guides which recommend capitalizing the “e” or “i” if you’re starting a sentence with one of those abbreviations.

The bottom line is that if you’re writing for professional publication in the United States, it’s probably best to go with the comma after “i.e.” and “e.g.”  If you’re writing for professional publication in areas where British English is king, you should probably exclude the comma.  If you’re simply writing a blog posts, it’s your blog, do what you want, just be prepared for a Grammar Nazi or two to call you out on it from time to time either way, depending on where they are from.

Another common stylistic mistake used (one I myself have been guilty of on numerous occasions) is to include an “etc.” after an “e.g.” list.  Because “e.g.” has been used, “et cetera” (which is Latin for “and other things”  or “and so forth”) is implied, so it shouldn’t be included at the end of such a list.

If all these grammatical and stylistic rules surrounding “i.e.” and “e.g.” seem cumbersome, you can, of course, simply not ever use them.  They are a substitution for things like “that is” and “for example”, so you can always just use those words or other similar phrases instead where the grammatical rules are often more self evident.

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The Difference Between an Acronym and an Initialism

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Now You KnowYou should know the difference between an acronym and an initialism.

Both acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations, but there is a key difference between the two, at least at present. Due to rampant misuse of the term “acronym” some dictionaries are now starting to add an extra definition to it, allowing acronyms to expand their scope to include initialisms.  So as the English language evolves, this additional definition of acronym may stick and become widely accepted. But at present, it’s generally still good form to distinguish between the two.

Acronyms, of course, are abbreviations where the abbreviation is formed from letters of other words (usually the first letter of each word, though not always).  The part of the definition of acronym that many people miss is that the resulting abbreviation needs to be pronounceable as a word.  Examples of this would be things like RAM (Random Access Memory); LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation); NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).

Initialisms are very similar to acronyms in that they are made up of letters of some name or phrase, usually the first letter of each word as is common with acronyms.  The difference between an acronym and initialism is that the abbreviation formed with initialisms is not pronounced as a word, rather you say the individual letters, such as FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and DVD (Digital Video Disk*).

And, of course, if it’s just a shortened form of a word, like “ex.” for “example”, then it’s neither an acronym nor an initialism, rather just an abbreviation.

Another thing about acronyms and initialisms that often causes confusion is whether or not one should place periods after each letter in order to be grammatically correct. Some grammar guides do advise doing so, but just as many say you should not, usually arguing that to add the periods can sometimes make things look messier and it’s already clear by the all-capitals that it’s an abbreviation, so the periods are pointless *snicker*. So really, it’s whatever you prefer as to whether to put periods after the letters of acronyms and initialisms or not.  The important thing is just to be consistent throughout your writing.

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*DVD probably originally stood for “Digital Video Disk”, but today often is changed to stand for “Digital Versatile Disk”

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It’s Bad Rap, Not Bad Wrap

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Now You KnowYou should know that the expression to describe when someone is falsely convicted of a criminal charge or is on the receiving end of unjustified criticism is “bad rap”, not “bad wrap”.

Further, “rap” in this sense is not an acronym of “Record of Arrest and Prosecution”, though has since been backronymed as such.  The reality is that the meaning of “rap” in “bad rap” evolved from the original meaning of the word “rap”, which first popped up around the 14th century meaning “strike or blow”, likely of onomatopoeic origins.

By the 17th century, “rap’s” meaning had been extended from “a sharp blow” to also mean “a sharp criticism or complaint” (likely from the fact that a criticism or complaint can be a metaphorical blow). Within two centuries this latter definition of “rap” gave rise to another definition: “a criminal charge” or “punishment”.  For instance, in a March of 1865 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, we have:

He who has the bad taste to meddle with the caprices of believers…gets the rap and the orders of dismissal.

This usage gave rise to the phrases like “bad rap”, “rap sheet”, “beat the rap”, etc.

Bonus Fact:

  • The word “rap” came to be used as a name for “rap music” through yet another definition of “rap” that came about around the 19th century.  At this time, “rap” came to also mean “talk/chat”, then later a “lively banter or debate”.  In the 20th century, this gave rise to a form of impromptu performance poetry being called “rapping” as early as the 1970s, which in turn gave rise to the name “rap music” to describe a type of music with rhythmic spoken lyrics.

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When Adding a Second “PS” at the End of a Letter, It’s “PPS”, Not “PSS”

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This, of course, is because “PS” stands for “postscript”. This comes from the Latin “post scriptum” (sometimes written “postscriptum”), which translates to “written after”, or more to the point, “what comes after the writing”.

Thus, PSS would mean “postscript script”, which doesn’t really make sense in this context. Rather, the correct way to write this abbreviation is “PPS” for “post-postscript” or “after what comes after the writing”. This continues to PPPS, PPPPS, and so on.

Also note, both forms “P.S.” and “PS” are considered correct, though the latter form, without the periods, is considered the preferred method today as “postscript” is now considered one word.

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