I before E (except after C)

Lots of people think this is supposed to be a spelling rule (or they may even just know the first part, without the brackets) and then get annoyed by the many exceptions. But they’ve only learned part of it.

In full, it goes “I before E, except after C, when the sound is E” and the last part makes all the difference.

  • So it’s believe, relief, mischief, brief, etc.
  • And perceive, receipt, deceit, ceiling, etc.
  • But not when the sound isn’t E:
    – freight, eight, reign, weight
    – foreign
    – weird
    – their, heir
    and so forth.
  • The exceptions are then pretty much limited to names of non-English origin (for instance Gaelic-derived such as Keith) and words in which the I and E were originally two different sounds (like caffeine). You may be able to come up with a few more for me, but there aren’t many.

So I’m sorry to spoil all those lovely tweets, memes and posts about eight reigning foreign heirs perceiving weird theistic sleight of hand, but they simply don’t hold water.

Prevalence: — Widely misquoted. Not got much to do with Dunglish, either, but it gives me a chance to have a rant. Sorry.
Frequency: — All the supposed exceptions are a nice source of humour though, aren’t they? And English spelling is undoubtedly highly illogical at times.
Native: yes. Very much so. Even that great fount of all wisdom, Stephen Fry, got this one wrong on Qi.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

3 thoughts on “I before E (except after C)

  1. and I recently had “protein” brought to my attention (in exactly the same category as “cafffeine”, actually)


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