English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I know that 'i.e.' is an abbreviation of 'that is'. But, my question is about pronouncing it perhaps,

  1. in normal speech,
  2. reading from a piece of text containing the abbreviation, etc.

In the US, most people (I have interacted with) pronounce 'i.e.' by uttering the two letters 'I' and 'E'. So, it would sound like 'eye ee'.

However, I have heard very few Americans say 'that is' instead of 'eye ee'. I have observed this when I saw them read a piece of text like a news article. It's like they replaced 'i.e.' with 'that is' in the text and then, read it.

How common is the latter pronunciation in the US? How is 'i.e.' said in the rest of the English-speaking world?

share|improve this question
I believe that the audience of the orally delivered text plays a role in whether or not "eye ee" is readily understood. In any event, though I would be inclined to say "eye ee", I would not plow right through it, I'd put a pause in my reading before and after saying "eye ee" as if to announce the subsequent text. – Kristina Lopez Jul 5 '13 at 21:20
Possible duplicate of this: english.stackexchange.com/questions/574/… – Kaiser Octavius Jul 5 '13 at 21:38
up vote 4 down vote accepted

In normal speech, I would say "that is." I would not say "eye ee" for a couple of reasons.

  • The audience may not actually know what "eye ee" means.
  • It could be ambiguous because another term IE could mean something other than "that is". Consider a speech about web browsers. The audience would not know what you are referring to when you say "eye ee". Is that i.e. or is that Internet Explorer? The audience can probably come to the conclusion of which one it is, but for clarity, you should say "that is".
  • Public speakers do not usually say i.e., so you should follow that convention.

While reading i.e. from text, I still say "that is." It is the same with e.g., I would say "for example." However, it is not incorrect to say "eye ee" since you, yourself know what the context is, it is fine.

To summarize, it is very common to say "that is". If you are reading aloud to listeners who are unable to see the text, I would recommend saying "that is" to avoid any ambiguity. If they can see the text and clearly know that you are conveying the abbreviation i.e, you can say "eye ee". If you prefer, you can say the full latin: id est

share|improve this answer
Yeah, you never say “i.e.” as letters; you say it as the words it means: that is. – tchrist Jul 5 '13 at 21:22
For e.g., I usually say the latin: exempli gratia. – rcollyer Jul 5 '13 at 22:52

[disclaimer: I can't speak for the US, so I'll go with the "rest of the world" department]

I read "i.e." as eye ee as well, if I have to, but most often I just say "that is", because i.e. stands for id est and you know the rest.

The reason why I'd avoid "eye ee" is because:

  1. it might be misheard or not understood properly (you never know)
  2. someone might not know what it stands for
  3. "that is" is equally correct (it's why the i.e. is there for, anyway), and clearer
share|improve this answer
Technically, he didn't ask what you would do. He asked how common it is. – GEdgar Jul 5 '13 at 20:46
And what, he expected me to have the results of a survey? The closest you can get is personal statements and see where the average falls. – Corina Jul 5 '13 at 21:17
Um, no. One pronounces i.e. as “that is”. – tchrist Jul 5 '13 at 21:21
Oh dear, are you still butthurt, tchrist? – Corina Jul 5 '13 at 21:58

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.