I don’t know about you, but sometimes Latin abbreviations just confuse me. Despite my love of languages, I never took a Latin class in school. I don’t know if that puts me at a disadvantage or not when it comes to scientific and literary Latinisms. But I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who gets confused sometimes about the proper usage of some of these oft-used Latin terms.
Rather than teach an entire Latin lesson (which I can’t do, because, as I just stated, I never studied it), I’ll just cover three common Latin terms used in writing. Let’s start with i.e. and e.g.
The abbreviation i.e. stands for id est, which means “that is.” It’s a way of explaining in further detail something that was stated in the first part of a sentence. If you substitute “that is” or “in other words” for the i.e. and the sentence still makes sense, then i.e. is probably the abbreviation you need.
Since I’m lactose intolerant, I can’t eat the best part of the pizza, i.e., the cheese. (Since I’m lactose intolerant, I can’t eat the best part of the pizza, in other words, the cheese.)
If you’re not a Latin expert, and you need help remembering what i.e. means, pretend that it means “in essence.”
The abbreviation e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for the sake of example.” It can be used to describe a list (or a single item) that is an example of what was stated in the first part of a sentence. If you substitute “for example” in place of the e.g. and the sentence still works, that’s probably the right choice.
I grew up reading superhero comics, e.g., X-Men, Fantastic Four, Batman. (I grew up reading superhero comics, for example, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Batman.)
T o help you remember what e.g. means, pretend that it stands for “example given.”
I may be going against a rule book of grammatical standards, but for general usage, these two abbreviations should be lowercase, always have the period after each letter, and be followed by a comma. (I think this last one about the comma applies primarily to American usage. British usage doesn’t have the comma).
The abbreviation etc. stands for et cetera, which means “and so forth” or “and other things.” It is used at the end of a sentence to indicate a continuation of a list of related items.
I’ve owned many different breeds of rabbits: mini lop, rex, lion head, etc. (I’ve owned many different breeds of rabbits: mini lop, rex, lion head, and so forth/and other similar things.)
Like the other two abbreviations, etc. is always lowercase and always followed by a period. It’s usually used at the end of a sentence, but a comma should proceed it after the last word of the series.
I hope this helps to clarify some of these Latin abbreviations, both when you’re reading and when you’re writing. Just remember:
i.e. – in essence
e.g. – example given
etc. – and so forth
Does anyone else have any other troublesome abbreviations and easy tricks for remembering how to use them?
Grace Robinson: Writer of fantasy. Fan of arctic places, world music, mythology, and linguistics. Soon-to-be world traveler and published author.
Born and raised in Virginia, studied English and creative writing at Hollins University. Currently living in Virginia with two rabbits and a lot of books.