January 17, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: e.g./i.e., comprise

Posted in comprise, e.g./i.e. at 7:57 pm by dlseltzer

The first tip is related to the use of ‘comprise,” a much misused and misunderstood word. Comprise means “contain” or “include.” It does not mean “is composed of.” But (NOTE: by the way, although you cannot start a sentence with “also,” it is perfectly fine to start a sentence with “but” or “and”) many use “comprise” as “is composed of” or “consists of” . For example,”the library is comprised of thousands of books.” While this might sound okay to you, check out the true meaning, “contain.” You wouldn’t say, “the library is contained of thousands of books.” No, of course not–You would say, ” the library contains thousands of books.” And (see note above) similarly, the correct usage would be, “the library comprises thousands of books.” Now I know this may seem counterintuitive for many since many have been using the “is comprised of” meaning for so long. But kids, it’s just wrong.


The second tip concerns the use of the abbreviations “e.g.” and “i.e.”

“e.g.” stands for the Latin “exempli gratia” and means “for example.”

“i.e.” stands for the Latin “id est” and means “that is.”

The two are not interchangeable.

“e.g.” should be used when you are listing some of the types of things you are discussing. A phrase starting with “e.g.” should not end with an “etc.” (standing for “et cetera” and meaning “and others”) because the use of the “e.g.” is a way of stating that these are some examples.

EXAMPLE: We expect that health professional fellows (e.g., MD, DO, DMD, PharmD, RN/PhD or equivalent) with no prior advanced degree pertinent to HSR will pursue a Master’s of Science degree through the ICRE.

“i.e.” should be used when you are specifying the thing you are discussing.

EXAMPLE: He will oversee the experience of fellows who work with RAND Health investigators and will coordinate the interaction of fellows with faculty at other US RAND Health offices (i.e., Santa Monica, Washington, DC).

Both are abbreviations and BOTH SHOULD BE FOLLOWED BY A COMMA.



  1. alan said,

    Just made a correction at an ESCRO committee meeting last week of a document that used eg instead of ie (or maybe it was vice-versa).

    BTW, why can’t you start a sentence with Also? That’s some schoolmarm’s rule. The meanings of words are one thing, but proper grammar is really a matter of convention, and as to convention, take some advice from Bob Zimmerman (aka Dylan), “the times they are a changin”

  2. jessica said,

    I will preface this note by saying you will never cure me of my overzealous love and use of the comma, the dash, and the ellipses…hope points are not deducted.

    This was another good one – I always have to refer to this grammar book I have before daring to use e.g. because I rarely remember the proper use (I blame the school systems for no longer teaching Latin).

    A note on “comprise” and how Microsoft Word is not your friend…
    When you type the word “comprise” in a document and click for synonyms one of the options you are given is “consists of.” As you mentioned below, this is an inappropriate use of the word “comprise.” Curse you Bill Gates.

  3. bruce said,

    thank you for clarifying i.e. and e.g. I did not know what their latin derivation was before.

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