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Confusing Abbreviations, e.g., “etc.” and “i.e.”

Can grammar be practical? Sure, if its inadvertent misuse causes readers to raise their eyebrows and wonder about the writer’s credibility. Think resumes, work communications, etc. See what I did there? We’re getting into today’s topic already! Three abbreviations seem to get abused more than others, e.g., “etc.,” “i.e.,” and, you guessed it, “e.g.”

The good news is proper use is easy when you know the word origins. Let’s go!

etc.

Abbreviated from the whole word, etcetera, or in older times, et cetera, this one has been around quite a while, perhaps earlier than the 15th century. Charles Dickens used it frequently, one example coming from The Pickwick Papers.

At the upper end of the room was a table, with a white cloth upon it, well covered with a roast fowl, bacon, ale, and et ceteras.

When you break down the full word, etcetera, its meaning and proper usage become much less confusing. The original Latin, two-word phrase, et cetera, translates as follows. Et means “and,” while cetera implies “the other parts” or “that which remains.”

So, simply put, etcetera can be used to communicate “and all the other parts” as in a list of similar things.

i.e.

This one derives from the Latin “id est.” That means something like “that is.” Think of “i.e.” as an introduction to a clarifying statement or possibly an alternate way to express an idea. The simple shortcut to proper use is mentally substituting the phrase “in other words.” If your usage still works, you’re good to go.

When pondering whether you used this one correctly, try substituting a different phrase, i.e., words with similar meaning, to test the success of your sentence.

e.g.

Let’s go to the Latin first, and all will become clear! “E.g.” stems from “exempli gratia,” meaning “for example.”

So, when communicating an idea and you want to provide examples to clarify or reinforce the precise meaning, use “e.g.”

To add interest to your written ideas, try using a vocabulary reference, e.g., a thesaurus, to find alternate word choices.

The bottom line

To refine the quality of your writing, engage your readers, etc., try using abbreviations, i.e., shortened forms of words. You know, like those two-letter Latin abbreviations, e.g., “i.e.” and “etc.”

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