How to Correctly Use Latin Shortened Forms

Three Latin shortened forms commonly appear in academic writing: ‘i.e.’, ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’. Often ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ are used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. This article will define the meanings of each of these Latin shortened forms and explain how to use them correctly in formal contexts.

What does ‘i.e.’ mean?

‘I.e.’ is the shortened form of the Latin phrase id est. The Macquarie Dictionary defines its meaning as ‘that is’. It is used to give clarification. It’s important to make it clear that ‘i.e.’ does not mean ‘such as’ or ‘for example’ (see our explanation of ‘e.g.’ below), but rather means ‘in essence’ or ‘in other words’. For example:

Solomon’s grandfather was alive during the Russian Revolution (i.e., the 1917 revolution that ended the reign of Nicholas II).

In this example, ‘i.e.’ is used to clarify which Russian Revolution Solomon’s grandfather was alive during. (There was an earlier revolution in 1905.)

You will also notice that I’ve placed the ‘i.e.’ within parentheses. In academic writing, Latin shortened forms should only be presented in parenthetical text. Outside parentheses, the phrase should be written in full as ‘that is’.

What does ‘e.g.’ mean?

‘E.g.’ is the shortened form of the Latin phrase exempli gratia. The Macquarie Dictionary defines its meaning as ‘for example’. ‘E.g.’ is used to introduce a list of examples. It’s worth noting that ‘e.g.’ signifies that the list of examples is not finite. Here’s an example of ‘e.g.’ used correctly:

The soldiers’ packs were weighed down by equipment and necessities for survival (e.g., bed rolls, dried food and ammunition).

The use of ‘e.g.’ allows us to assume there was more than bed rolls, dried food and ammunition weighing down the soldiers’ packs. ‘E.g.’ tells us that these are examples of some of things in their packs. If the packs contained only bed rolls, dried food and ammunition, there would be no need to say ‘for example’.

As with ‘i.e.’, you will notice there is a comma after ‘e.g.’. This is because they are introductory phrases. Similarly, if you had written ‘for example’ (instead of using the Latin shortened form ‘e.g.’), you would put a comma after it because it’s an introductory phrase.

What does ‘etc.’ mean?

‘Etc.’ is the shortened form of the Latin phrase et cetera. It is informal by nature and means ‘and other things’, ‘and so forth’ or ‘and so on’ (Macquarie Dictionary, 2017).

‘Etc.’ is avoided in academic writing because it makes writing vague or non-specific. This is an example of a grammatically correct usage of ‘etc.’:

The researcher’s data were derived from multiple sources (field notes, interview transcripts, academic documentation etc.).

‘Etc.’ indicates that the list in the parentheses is incomplete. You can see how this sentence could be improved if I removed ‘etc.’ and instead made my list finite. Alternatively, I could have used ‘e.g.’ at the beginning to indicate I was going to give some examples of the multiple sources of data, but not all.

It’s also worth noting that because it is a shortened form, ‘etc.’ includes a full stop.

We hope this has clarified the difference between ‘i.e.’, ‘e.g.’, ‘etc.’ for you. Remember, you can use ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ in academic writing, as long as they are used within parentheses (or in the text of a table). Make sure you punctuate each Latin shortened form correctly with appropriate full stops to denote that you are using a shortened form of a word. Lastly, don’t forget to use a comma after ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ when they are used as introductory phrases.

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