I Before E Except After C

Here’s the classic spelling rule that all native English speakers learn in the first years of school. If you’re unsure whether to spell a word with an ie or an ei, use ie unless the two letters are preceded by c.

Therefore, we have hierarchy and ceiling.

As with all rules in English, however, there are exceptions. Three that immediately come to mind are weird, weight, and their

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22 Responses to I Before E Except After C

  1. Sarah G says:

    I learned:
    “i” before “e” except after “c” and when it has the “a” sound, as in “neighbor” and “weigh.”
    Weird is just still weird. :)

  2. Excellent, Sarah! That’s a great way to remember it. Thanks for the addition to the rule as I learned it.

  3. Emo! says:

    What about Science?!

  4. Dot Hermansen says:

    My husband learned the poem “I before e except after c or when it sounds like a as in neighbor and weigh…..it goes on to say neither the weird financeir nor sheik the foreigner…. I have always wanted the entire poem to teach to my children. Does anyone know it? Thanks, Dot

  5. Joe says:

    Emo,’science’ is not covered by the rule because the rule applies only to digraphs – a letter pair that represents a single sound. If you separate ‘science’ into syllables: ‘sci-ence’ you see that ‘i’ and ‘e’ are separate sounds. By the way, ‘hi-er-arch-y’ is not covered by the rule for the same reason.So the rule should read ‘i’ before ‘e’ for digraphs except after ‘c’, and when it has the ‘ei’ sound as in ‘weight’ or ‘beige’ or ‘dreidel’, or the ‘ai’ sound as in ‘height’ or ‘feisty’ or ‘seismic’.In fact, the only sound that this rule works for consistently is the long ‘ee’ as in: brief belief receive conceiveBut even here there are several exceptions like: codeine leisure seizeweirdBottom line, use with extreme caution ;-)

  6. Dot, are you looking for this line? “The weird foreigner neither seizes leisure nor forfeits height.” Steve Wagar’s site has an extended discussion of the rule, along with a fairly comprehensive list of exceptions.

  7. Steve Kaye says:

    I was taught this rule at school:
    “i before e except after c only when the sound is ‘ee'”
    This seems to catch a lot of the exceptions but I can’t find any reference to this addition on the internet.
    Also, I don’t know if this is an American site but in England ‘leisure’ and ‘weird’ are not pronounced ‘ee’ and so are still caught by this addition.

  8. thefife says:

    I learned this rule like what Steve Kaye just said. I grew up in Ohio, USA:
    I before E except after C with the sound of long E.
    I never was given a long list of “exceptions”.

  9. Allyson says:

    thnx, this site helped me wit mi homework!

  10. Hermione says:

    I learned this when I was in grade school. 3rd grade to be exact. I learned it like this though, “I before e except after c, or when rhyming with weigh, neighbor, or say.” I’ve used that little poem every time I write anything. Now my kids use it.

  11. Karl says:

    Thanks, Hermione. That’s a good little poem. How do you account for “weird,” though?

  12. steven says:

    When is the apostrophe ‘ placed at the end of the word?

  13. Kayceen says:

    To Dot:
    This is the one I teach …. if you remember and utilize all 4 of these lines, there are VERY FEW exceptions…
    I before E, except after C,
    Or when it sounds like ‘A’, like in Neighbor and Weigh,
    Or when it sounds like ‘Ear’, like in the word Weird,
    Or when it sounds like ‘Eek’, like in Sheik!

  14. Helen of Troy says:

    I don’t think that this always works. I remember that i followed this advice to write weird. so i wrote wierd. In the end i got it wrong. What are some of the other words that don’t follow this rule? I hope that you can give me all of them so i don’t get them wrong the next time i have a spelling test!

  15. Cooly Connor says:

    does society follow the rule with the syllable seperation joe?

  16. chris says:

    What would apply to double same vowels like feel or fool. Are there rules like the i and e rules for those two. Or aardvark.

  17. chris says:

    What about this rule…
    “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” – meant to help kids decode words with 2 consecutive vowels like ‘road’ or ‘steal’.

  18. Jesse says:

    What are more words that are I before E except after C???
    like ceiling or receipt??????????? I need help!

  19. jade says:

    what is the point of i after e except after c it sounds the same really

  20. Melinda says:

    Dot Hermansen – Better late than never, I suppose. I found the whole poem on a blogspot blog. Here it is for you and for others who are wondering:
    i before e, except after c
    or when sounded like an a
    as in weigh, neigh, or sleigh.
    drop this rule when -c sounds as -sh
    like ancient, species, efficient;
    but what do we do about
    neither, height, leisure, weird???
    Or abseil, albeit, atheist, beige,
    caffeine, codeine, deity,
    feisty, forfeit, heifer,
    heinous, heir, meiosis,
    protein, sleight, surfeit,
    their

  21. marty says:

    what about the word science….why not the i before e rule here?

  22. jackie says:

    I learned “i before e, except after c, and sounded like a as in neighbor and weigh. But then a weird neighbor in a beige veil….” I don’t recall the rest; unfortunately, neither does anyone else.