Comma After i.e. and e.g.

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader wants to know if the abbreviations i.e. and e.g. should be followed by a comma.

i.e.: from the Latin phrase id est, “that is.” Used in English to restate a previous word or expression: “He really enjoys a good bildungsroman, i.e., coming-of-age novel.”

e.g.: from the Latin phrase exempli gratia, “for the sake of the example.” In English, it means “for example” and is used to introduce one or more examples: “I like animals, e.g. dogs, cats, and horses.”

The two terms are frequently mixed up. If you have trouble remembering which means “in other words” and which means “for example,” you can use a mnemonic to keep them apart, or you can avoid using them altogether.

A simple mnemonic that helps many writers is the fact that the word example begins with the letter e. E.g., therefore, is the one that means “for example.”

On the other hand, instead of e.g., you can write “for example,” and for i.e., you can write “namely” or “in other words.”

Style guides do not agree on whether or not a comma should follow both these abbreviations. They do all agree that a comma precedes i.e. when the i.e. phrase occurs in a running text (i.e., not enclosed in parenthesis).

The consensus seems to be in favor of the comma in American usage; against it in British usage.

The Penguin Writer’s Manual (British) shows both i.e. and e.g. without a following comma.

Fowler, in his venerable Modern English Usage, opines that

“whether a comma follows [e.g.] or not is indifferent, or rather is decided by the punctuation-pitch of the writer of the passage.

He says nothing of i.e.

The Chicago Manual of Style states that i.e. and e.g. should be “confined to parentheses and notes and followed by a comma.”

The AP Stylebook, whose “punctuation-pitch” leans generally to the side of “the fewer commas the better,” is pro-comma when it comes to i.e. and e.g. According to AP, both abbreviations are “always followed by a comma.”

As with so many matters of punctuation, the writer’s best practice is to choose a style reference and follow its recommendations.

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11 Responses to “Comma After i.e. and e.g.”

  • Elysia

    Thanks for this! I had not been aware it was even an option not to use a comma. Perhaps I’ve overedited on this point on occasion. :-O

  • Virginia Llorca

    I always use a colon as you did in your initial examples, e.g.: just like this. Don’t recall being corrected. Will check Chicago Manual.

  • Shing

    I like animals, i.e. dogs.
    I like animals, i.e., dogs.
    I like animals. I.e. Dogs. I also like plants. I.e. Roses. <- Best
    i.e. should just be avoided.

    I like animals, e.g. dogs, cats, and horses.
    I like animals, e.g., dogs, cats, and horses.
    I like animals. E.g. Cats and dogs. I like deserts. E.g. Cakes and cookies. <– Clearest if in-line.

  • Stephanie

    @Shing, your use of [i.e.] is incorrect in the examples you gave. The term means “in other words” and not “for example.”

    I like sports, .e.g., baseball, basketball, and tennis. The phrase after [e.g.] lists examples of the sports I like but does not define the word “sports” or the phrase “I like sports.”

    I like baseball, i.e., a popular sport in the U.S. involving batting a ball and running bases. –> The phrase after [i.e.] defines the noun it follows.

    The example in the article was: “He really enjoys a good bildungsroman, i.e., coming-of-age novel.”

  • Shameem

    @Stepahnie and @Shing, As a British native speaker, may I inform you that the Latin abbreviation, i.e., does not mean “in other words” or “for example.” It means: “that is (to say).” The Latin abbreviation, e.g., means “for example.” Furthermore, viz., means “namely.” I hope that helps 😉

  • Peg

    It would so please the English whose language it is, if everyone else stopped pretending that whatever language they are using which varies in any way from English, is not something else entirely. There is only one English language and Americans neither speak it nor understand it. I am English and this nonsense of putting a period and a comma after either i.e. or e.g. really gets up our collective nose. Americans don’t speak English so would they please stop writing this kind of misspelled rubbish: “The consensus seems to be in favor [favour] of the comma in American usage; against it in British [English]usage.” If you are too lazy to invent your own language, stop abusing ours – please! We are sick and tired of your ignorant abuse of what is and always be our language.

  • Maeve

    Sorry, Peg. There is not “only one English language.” English is a collection of dialects spoken throughout the world. Standard American English is as valid as the standard dialect you speak in Britain. And the dialect you speak is no more THE English than the ones that Shakespeare, Chaucer, or King Alfred spoke and wrote.

  • Tim Bowen

    According to The Gregg Reference Manual, always insert a comma after i.e. and e.g.

    The Gregg Reference Manual, Tribute Edition 11, page 383.

  • Noah Vickers

    Of the 1.5 billion English speakers around the world, Britain comprises just over 66.4 million of them. The other 1.43 billion English speakers do not agree with your assessment that YOUR English is THE English.

  • Tony

    To carry on with what Noah said: The English colonized or conquered Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., Belize and British New Guinea. Many of these had existing original peoples with their own languages, but English became the primary language of (most) of them anyway. Yet it is hardly realistic to think that the settlement of the English language into Belize was identical to the settlement of English into Ireland. Of course there are different versions of English. Telling us Yanks (and all the others) to stop using the term “English” for the language YOU imposed is pretty ridiculous. Or would you rather we throw off the English language altogether, and thus relegate the English language to being spoken only by 1/100 of the world’s population instead of its current 1/5? (Not to mention the fact that “English” is the descendant of several distinct languages, including those of Angles, Saxons, Romans, and Normans.)

    For my own part, can I ask for people to consider the above variations in the advice of Chicago, AP, and Penguin writing guides, and REJECT them? Or rather, reject their dictatorial tone and posture about the matter? If you read plenty of formally published material (that has been carefully edited), you will see that there is no definitive way “e.g.” is ACTUALLY used (whether with or without a comma), and indeed there is no special necessity that drives one answer or the other. Fowler’s advice actually makes the most sense. Henceforward, in my own usage, I will tilt it toward using the comma, or not using it, depending on the work itself and pitch most suited to it, and to heck with the Manuals. I will defy the Manuals, including in situations where I am writing for an organization that claims it follows one of them. (For the most part I will normally assume that the periods that are part of the “e.g.” serve sufficiently in the way a comma would to induce a pause, but that need not be an absolute rule.)

  • Tony

    I applaud Shameem’s clarification that “i.e.” stands for “id est” which technically means “that is”, as in “that is to say…”. However, in almost all uses, “in other words” is a reasonable functional equivalent for “that is”.

    I tend to believe that whatever you suggest about using a comma with “e.g.”, you need not have the same advice for “i.e.”. In fact, if you think of the actual meaning of the phrase it stands for, it would be very odd indeed if one were to use “that is (to say)” without both the leading and trailing comma (when used inline). So if one abbreviates the “that is” by the “i.e.”, then meaning-wise the sentence ought to require the use of the comma before “i.e.”; the only question is whether the periods that punctuate it as an abbreviation suffice for the purpose of the comma following it. I don’t think there needs to be a hard and fast rule. (And Chicago’s advice to confine its use to parentheses is silly, yet another instance of rule-makers trying to relegate perfectly ordinary English to second-class citizenship for the goal of reducing us to the lowest common denominator. Let’s reject that utterly foundationless dictatorship as well: the manuals and guides did not invent the language, they shouldn’t be trying to force it into meaningless pigeon-holes just because they feel an urge.)

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