You will remember the ‘i’ before ‘e’ rule from your own school days.

With all the advances in technology and access to every piece of information written ever, this simple rule still bamboozles and confuses children.

“I before E, except after C” is a rule that should help your grandchild spell better.

However, this “rule” is broken more than it is used.

i before e except after c

“I before E, except after C”

If you are unsure whether a word is spelled with the letter sequence ei or ie, the rhyme suggests that the correct order is ie unless the preceding letter is C.

For example: ie in believe, fierce, collie, die, friend

and, ei after c in deceive, ceiling, and receipt.

However, there are many exceptions.

For example: ie after c: species, science, sufficient ei not preceded by c: seize, weird, vein, their, foreign, feisty and heist.


Listen for the long ‘a’ sound

The exception to the rule is if the spelling represents a long A sound – the rhyme continues “or when sounding like A, as in neighbour or weigh”.


i before e,

Except after c,

Or when sounded as “a”,

As in neighbour and weigh.

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The i before e rule in English

When did this all start?

We can go right back to 1866 to find the first mention of the rhyme “I before E except after C”.

It appeared as a footnote in the Manual of English Spelling edited by James Stuart Laurie, and English school inspector.

Leonard B. Wheat examined the rules and word lists found in various American spelling books in 1932.

He worked out that of the 3,876 words listed, 128 had ei or ie in the spelling; of these, 83 conformed to I-before-E, 6 to except-after-C, and 12 to sounded-like-A.

He found 14 words with i-e in separate syllables, and 2 with e-i in separate syllables.

This left 11 “irregular” words: 3 with cie (ancient, conscience, efficiency) and 8 with ei (either, foreign, foreigner, height, leisure, neither, seize, their).

Wheat concluded, “If it were not for the fact that the jingle of the rule makes it easy to remember (although not necessarily easy to apply), the writer would recommend that the rule be reduced to ‘I usually comes before e,’ or that it be discarded entirely’.

Confused? So are the majority of students learning to read and write English.

Here’s how to teach your grandchild the i before e rule
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