The 'i before e' spelling row

24 Jun 2009

 I have been following with interest the debate about the decision to drop the 'i before e' rule in official guidance to schools on spelling. 

 I will not claim to be an expert but I received the following by email which I thought worth sharing:

"The problem with the 'I before E rule' is that people have forgotten the rule and ministers and educationalists are all quoting it incorrectly. The rule is 'I before E except after C WHEN THE SOUND IS E (eeeee....)'.

Now if you apply the rule correctly there are very few exceptions. A words like weird, which is often quoted are not fitting the rule, works because the sound is as in ear so e comes before i. words like receiver are e before i because they come after c and the sound is eee... Words like achieve also work because the sound is eeee.. but there is no c so it is i before e."

 I welcome further contributions to the debate.


User Comments

Charles - 25 Jun 2009

'i before e' The really full version

There could an even fuller version of the rule:

i before e except after c
when the sound is ee
(unless it's seize or protein or caffeine and maybe a few others)
or when sounded like a
(as in neighbour and weigh)
or when -c sounds as -sh
as in ancient and species
or when the sound is eye
such as neither or height
or when.....

Not so easy to remember! The mnemonic is helpful, but teachers have always told children that there are exceptions to spelling "rules" in English that they have to learn. They can't avoid this since bright kids always point out the exceptions.

The official guidance is just another example of civil servants being paid to state the bleeding obvious.

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