What's the Difference Between i.e. & e.g.?

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and is known for her Grammar Girl websitepodcast, and games.

Misusing these two abbreviations is one of the top five mistakes I used to see when editing technical documents. There's so much confusion that in some of the drafts I got back from clients they had actually crossed out the right abbreviation and replaced it with the wrong one. 

What Do I.e. and E.g. Mean?

I.e. and e.g. are both abbreviations for Latin terms. I.e. stands for id est and means roughly "that is." E.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example.” "Great. Latin," you're probably thinking. "How am I supposed to remember that?”

How to Remember the Difference Between I.e. and E.g.

But by now, I'm sure you know that I'm not going to ask you to remember Latin. I'm going to give you a memory trick. So here's how I remember the difference. Forget about i.e. standing for "that is" or whatever it really means in Latin. From now on, i.e., which starts with i, means “in other words,” and e.g., which starts with e, means “for example.” I = in other words. E= example.

A few listeners have also written in to say that they remember the difference between i.e. and e.g. by imagining that i.e. means “in essence,” and e.g. sounds like “egg sample,” and those are good memory tricks too.

So now that you have a few tricks for remembering what the abbreviations mean, let's think about how to use them in a sentence.

E.g. means “for example,” so you use it to introduce an example: I like card games, e.g., bridge and crazy eights. Because I used e.g., you know that I have provided a list of examples of card games that I like. It's not a finite list of all card games I like; it's just a few examples.

On the other hand, i.e. means “in other words,” so you use it to introduce a further clarification: I like to play cards, i.e., bridge and crazy eights. Because I used i.e., which introduces a clarification, you know that these are the only card games that I enjoy.

Here are two more examples:

Squiggly loves watching old cartoons (e.g., DuckTales and Tugboat Mickey). The words following e.g. are examples, so you know that these are just some of the old cartoons that Squiggly enjoys.

Squiggly loves watching Donald Duck's nephews (i.e., Huey, Dewey, and Louie). The words following i.e. provide clarification: they tell you the names of Donald Duck's three nephews.

An important point is that if I've failed, and you're still confused about when to use each abbreviation, you can always just write out the words "for example" or "in other words." There's no rule that says you have to use the abbreviations.

Dos and Don'ts

Don't italicize i.e. and e.g.; even though they are abbreviations for Latin words, they've been used for so long that they're considered a standard part of the English language. Also, remember that they are abbreviations, so there is always a period after each letter.

Also, I always put a comma after i.e. and e.g. I've noticed that my spell checker always freaks out and wants me to remove the comma, but five out of six style guides recommend the comma. Seriously. I got so engrossed in the question of whether a comma is required after i.e. and e.g. that I made a  table for the website summarizing the opinions of six different style guides.

Source Recommendation
Chicago Manual of Style A comma is usually used after i.e. and e.g.
Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation Commas are preferable/optional after the abbreviations.
The Columbia Guide to Standard American English [Editors] require a comma after the second period [in these abbreviations].
The Guide to Grammar and Writing The comma [following i.e. and e.g.] makes good sense.
Lynch Guide to Grammar Both abbreviations should be followed by a comma.
Fowler's Modern English Usage Commas do not usually follow i.e. (No comment on e.g.

Nevertheless, even though I prefer the comma and have sources to back me up, they almost all use hedge words like “usually” and “preferred.” I've also been told that the commas are used less frequently in Britain, and the only style guide I found that advised against commas was Fowler's Modern English Usage, which has its roots in British English. The bottom line is that in American English, I recommend using a comma after i.e. and e.g. You could probably make an argument for leaving it out in some cases, but do so at your own risk. My personal rule is to use a comma every time.

Finally, I tend to reserve i.e. and e.g. to introduce parenthetical statements, but it's also perfectly fine to use i.e. and e.g. in other ways. You can put a comma before them, or if you use them to introduce a complete sentence that follows after another complete sentence, you can put a semicolon before them. You can even put an em dash before i.e. and e.g. if you are using them to introduce something dramatic. They're just abbreviations for words, so you can use them in any way you'd use the words in essence or for example.

This article was originally published by Mignon Fogarty on quickanddirtytips.com and shared here because we love her. She is also the author of the New York Times best-seller Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

Face masks are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind, designers and manufacturers have answered the call by providing options that are tailored for different lifestyles and fashion tastes. Almost every mask below is on sale, so you can find one that fits your needs without overspending.

1. Multicolor 5-pack of Polyester Face Masks; $22 (56 percent off)

Home Essentials

This set of five polyester masks offers the protection you need in a range of colors, so you can coordinate with whatever outfit you're wearing.

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2. 3D Comfort Masks 5-Pack; $20 (25 percent off)

Brio

The breathable, stretchy fabric in these 3D masks makes them a comfortable option for daily use.

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3. Reusable Face Masks 2-pack; $15 (50 percent off)

Triple Grade

This cotton mask pack is washable and comfortable. Use the two as a matching set with your best friend or significant other, or keep the spare for laundry day.

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4. Active Masks 3-pack; $23 (14 percent off)

RipleyRader

Don’t let masks get in the way of staying active. These double-layer cotton masks are breathable but still protect against those airborne particles.

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5. Washable Protective Cotton Face Masks 2-pack; $13 (35 percent off)

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Avoid the accidental nose-out look with this cotton mask that stays snug to your face.

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6. Washable 3D Masks 12-pack; $24 (44 percent off)

Elicto

With this 12-pack of protective masks, you can keep a few back-ups in your car and hand the rest out to friends and family who need them.

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7. Reusable Dust-Proof Mask with 5 Filters; $22 (45 percent off)

Triple Grade

This dust-proof mask can filter out 95 percent of germs and other particles, making it a great option for anyone working around smoke and debris all day, or even if you're just outside mowing the lawn.

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8. Reusable Fun Face Cover / Neck Gaiter (Flamingo); $20

Designer Face Covers

Channel some tropical energy with this flamingo fabric neck gaiter. The style of this covering resembles a bandana, which could save your ears and head from soreness from elastic loops. Other designs include a Bauhaus-inspired mask and this retro look.

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9. Seamless Bandana Mask; $8 (52 percent off)

Eargasm Earplugs

This seamless gaiter-style mask can be worn properly for protection and fashioned up into a headband once you're in the car or a safe space. Plus, having your hair out of your face will help you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth before washing your hands.

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10. Two-Ply "Love" Face Masks 2-Pack; $18 (40 percent off)

Design Safe

These statement masks allow you to have a voice, even if your mouth is covered.

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11. Neoprene/Fleece Neck and Face Mask (Purple); $10 (66 percent off)

Its All Good

This mask will definitely come in handy once winter rolls around. It features a fleece neck, face, and ear covering to keep your mask secure and your face warm.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Why Do We Say ‘Spill the Beans’?

This is a Greek tragedy.
This is a Greek tragedy.
anthony_taylor/iStock via Getty Images

Though superfans of The Office may claim otherwise, the phrase spill the beans did not originate when Kevin Malone dropped a massive bucket of chili at work during episode 26 of season five. In fact, people supposedly started talking about spilling the beans more than 2000 years ago.

According to Bloomsbury International, one voting method in ancient Greece involved (uncooked) beans. If you were voting yes on a certain matter, you’d place a white bean in the jar; if you were voting no, you’d use your black bean. The jar wasn’t transparent, and since the votes were meant to be kept secret until the final tally, someone who accidentally knocked it over mid-vote was literally spilling the beans—and figuratively spilling the beans about the results.

While we don’t know for sure that the phrase spill the beans really does date all the way back to ancient times, we do know that people have used the word spill to mean “divulge” at least since the 16th century. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest known reference of it is from a letter written by Spanish chronicler Antonio de Guevara sometime before his death in 1545 (the word spill appears in Edward Hellowes’s 1577 translation of the letter).

Writers started to pair spill with beans during the 20th century. The first known mention is from Thomas K. Holmes’s 1919 novel The Man From Tall Timber: “‘Mother certainly has spilled the beans!’ thought Stafford in vast amusement.”

In short, it’s still a mystery why people decided that beans were an ideal food to describe spilling secrets. As for whether you’re imagining hard, raw beans like the Greeks used or the tender, seasoned beans from Kevin Malone’s ill-fated chili, we’ll leave that up to you.

[h/t Bloomsbury International]