“For Example” vs. “For Instance”

For example and for instance are two very commonly-used English phrases. Do they have the same meaning? Or is there a difference?

They Have the Same Basic Meaning

For the most part, these two phrases are interchangeable. For example is more common, probably because the word example is more commonly used than the word instance.

These sentences are all correct:

Many people that work in San Francisco live in a nearby city. For example, Oakland.
Many people that work in San Francisco live in a nearby city. For instance, Oakland.

We should add more social proof to our home page. For example, we could add pictures of our users.
We should add more social proof to our home page. For instance, we could add pictures of our users.

Not so Fast!

However, there are definite “patterns of usage” for each phrase. For example seems to be more common when referring to a list of items or one item in a [larger] list. Take this sentence, for example:

The SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco is home to many tech companies. For example, Twitter, Udemy, and AirBnb are headquartered there.

For instance is more often used when referring to situations or events. This sentence, for instance, is about a recurring event:

Jack often works late. For instance, last night he was here until 9:00 p.m.!

It’s Not a Rule

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, these phrases are essentially the same. While one may be used more often in a specific situation, it is not a rule. You can replace instance with example in any example sentence and it would still be correct.

P.S. if you’re wondering what the featured image is; it’s a map of the Barcelona neighborhood of Eixample.

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