I know both can mean "for example/such as/for instance". They are most likely synonyms but even synonyms have slight subtle differences in precise meaning and usage. I know that 例 can be used alone: (例句 -- example sentence; 例语 -- example word/phrase) and 比 cannot (比句 and 比语 don't exactly make much sense). What I don't know are the specific semantic differences between 例如 and 比如. Any help would be appreciated!

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    比如 is more colloquial, 例如 is more formal. – songyuanyao Mar 23 '16 at 2:00
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    It helps me to break the words apart: 比 means "compare", 例 means "example", 如 means "with; as; comply with". So, one way of translating 比如 is "compare (that) with ..." and 例如 is "(here is something) as an example ...". – callyalater Mar 24 '16 at 17:10
up vote 6 down vote accepted

比如 used for similar but have different things;

例如 used for many of the same things, and take a typical example, using the example to illustrate the general of many things

Also, 比如 may not exist, but 例如 is must really exist.

比如和例如最重要的区别在“比”“例”的不同上。两词共有的“如”都是“象”的意思。但是,“比如”是用两个有些相似但是根本不同事物间的形容。例如说,“说话就比如是骑自行车样,要练习。”这里就不能用“例如”。“例如”是在说明很多相同的事物时,从中拿出一个典型的例子,用这个例子来说明众多的一般的事物。例如:“大家都很无私,例如小李就捐了一万块。”这里用比如好像可以,但是准确的应该是“例如”。

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