Word Confusions: I Before E Except After C…Unless

Posted December 17, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

If you’re like me, one of the few jingles we were taught as children that I remember was the rule about i before e except after c…and have you noticed how useless it is? There are so many exceptions to this rule that you may as well toss it on the rubbish heap.

Spelling correctly was the new status symbol in the eighteenth century, and it carried on through the years with people churning out rhymes to help them remember the various rules. Ah, visions of spelling bees…

Per David Crystal’s Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling, and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling, this particular jingle entered the classroom during the 19th century after spelling stabilized. – And people were wild to be correct— Hmmm, do you think this was the start of political correctness?

As Crystal notes specifically about the i before e rule, people kept coming up with all sorts of reasons why those words which didn’t follow the rule were exceptions. Only…there were so many of them… To cover ’em all, you’d need tens…

This group does follow the rules:

I Before E Except After C
believe receive
achieve ceiling
grieve deceive
retrieve perceive
field conceit
die, pie, lie conceive
piece receipt

Then there are the word ending exceptions:

I Before E Even After C
policies
agencies
vacancies
racier
pricier
juciest
conscience
ancient

And then there are the French (and other) exceptions…sounds like a movie, doesn’t it?:

Ze French EI & Other EI
forfeit either, neither
veil eight
vein atheism
reign deify
rein nucleic
heinous cuneiform
leisure reinforce
heir albeit
sovereign reveille
seize Eid
beige rottweiller
foreign buddleia
codeine
protein
weird

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

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