What Do i.e., e.g., et al. and etc. Have To Do With Romance?

Romance language abbreviationsWhen you talk about romantic language — flirting and paying compliments, for example — you’re talking about the language of romance (lowercase r).

When you talk about Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian, you’re talking about the Romance languages (uppercase R).

They are not called Romance languages because populations of these countries are known for or are more adept at courting and love; they are languages that were heavily influenced by Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. They show how Latin’s influence spread as the empire expanded.

Romanice, an adjective that suggested “in the Roman manner,” over time was shortened to Romance. Capitalizing it as Romance language clarifies its connotation of Roman influence.

Here are four common abbreviations with Latin roots.

1) i.e.

The Latin id est means that is or in other words.

Use i.e. to explain or to clarify, sometimes by listing options or rephrasing a previous statement.

In the absence of another punctuation choice, i.e. is always preceded by and followed by a comma.

    • I am not fond of any kind of sushi, i.e., I prefer my seafood cooked.
    • My Kindle is lightweight and compact, and it makes for convenient nighttime reading, i.e., I don’t need a bedside lamp.

The following examples use other forms of punctuation with i.e.: parentheses, a semicolon, dashes. Note, however, that i.e. still is followed by a comma.

    • Our country’s three West Coast states (i.e., California, Oregon and Washington) have ocean views that draw visitors from around the world.
    • Please have Ella to stop by close to noon to meet our new client; i.e., she doesn’t need an appointment.
    • I’m picking up dinner for Ryan later — i.e., I’ll be at your favorite deli — so let me know if I can bring you something.

2) e.g.

From the Latin expression exempli gratia, e.g. means for example. It often serves an introductory function and usually appears in the middle of a sentence. As with i.e., e.g. also should be preceded by (when other punctuation is not used) and followed by a comma.

    • Our publication will print articles that support our mission, e.g., stories about career change or major life transitions.
    • On the East Coast, cherry trees reach full bloom in late March; e.g., March 25 marked last season’s peak.
    • I sometimes hesitate to make editorial corrections (e.g., changing concerning to disconcerting) where ungrammatical use has become the norm.

Are i.e. or e.g. ever capitalized? In a thorough search, I found few places where either was capitalized. One was following the style of capitalizing the first letter of every word in a glossary or an index, and the other was at the beginning of a sentence. I’m including that example, as it also serves as good usage advice:

I.e. and e.g. should be avoided when your reading audience is not familiar with the terms.

3) et al.

This abbreviation derives from the Latin et alii, meaning and others.

It often is used in research citations; we see et al. in bibliographies that refer to multiple authors.

Unlike i.e. and e.g., et al. does not need a comma before or after. It does, however, require a period, even when it does not end a sentence.

    • Watson, Jones & Smith, 2016 becomes Watson et al., 2016
    • Technology companies Apple, Microsoft, Google et al. have a relaxed dress code that appeals to young workers.
    • The mayor, his staff, city council members et al. will be in transition for several weeks following the election.

4) etc.

The most common of these Latin abbreviations, etc. stands for et cetera and means and the rest or and so forth. Precede it with a comma.

    • We will serve a variety of cold beverages at the picnic: soda, lemonade, iced tea, etc.
    • Please help me get the lake house ready for the season by opening the windows, dusting the furniture, shaking the rugs, laundering the sheets, etc.
    • She’s taking the usual basic freshman courses: English 101, World History, Psychology 101, etc.

Good writing should not leave your reader with unanswered questions, which is one reason to use etc. sparingly.

The same can be said for i.e., e.g. and et al. Although these Latin terms have been around much longer than any of us, they are hardly — except maybe for etc. — part of common, everyday usage. Yes, you should know what they mean, but you’ll often be better off with in other words (i.e.), for example (e.g.), and others (et al.) and and so on (etc.).

Bonus Tip

Here’s how I remember what each abbreviation stands for:

i.e. — means in other words (both i.e. and in other words start with i).

e.g. — means for eggs-ample (OK, it’s hokey, but it works for me).

et al. — is close to and all; the required period signifies that all have been included. Period. The end. No more.

etc. — is so common that no memory aid is needed.

A Caution:

I develop each blog post in Microsoft Word and run spellcheck before I drop it into WordPress. Word’s spellcheck went crazy with these Latin terms and abbreviations! If you write a long document and include them, be prepared for many alerts.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)