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I had a bad experience with the "I before E" rule when I was eleven. I was in the sixth grade, in my 8th period Academic Enrichment class (something they threw all honors students into to take up schedule space, usually just a second portion of another core class like English, math, or science). This was an English-based Academic Enrichment class.

We had a substitute teacher and we were left with several workheets reviewing basic English grammar. One worksheet went over "I before E." I was quite familiar with the mnemonic device: "I before E, except after C, or when sounded as A, as in neighbor and weigh." Unfortunately, teachers had never mentioned exceptions to me.

Being the quick-witted student, I shot my hand up in the air and asked the substitute teacher, in a rhetorical manner (obviosuly knowing she would not be able to explain this one to me), "What about the word 'weird'?"

"I before E except after C!" she yelled at me.
"No, no. I understand that. Although the word 'weird' does not follow this axiom, as you will see here. I have written the word 'weird' out on a sheet of paper. You may notice that the 'e' comes before the 'i'."
"I before E except after C, young lady!"

I plunged my head into my arms and didn't look back up until she left. I figured this little secret was better left safe with me, at least until I got to high school. I never spoke up about this miracle word ever again... well, until now.

Sadly, I still know people who spell the word as "wierd."

Another exception to this rule is as follows:
I before E, except in God.
"What?" you ask. "'God' doesn't have an I or an E in it!" You are, of course, right. However, many words which refer to the deity, theism, or atheism do indeed have such letters. If you were paying attention, you might have seen three in the previous sentence.

In other words: It's "deity", not "diety" -- and "atheist", not "athiest".

It's important to remember that this "rule" should only be applied to words in which the "ie" is to be pronounced as a long e ("ee"). There are certainly many exceptions, but most of those on nieken's list don't count. If we eliminate those that follow the "except after C" part of the rule, and words such as leisure and either, where are not necessarily pronounced with a long e, we are left with the following exceptions:

  • caffeine
  • codeine
  • protein - These three are chemical terms, so I would contend that you wouldn't try to apply the rule in any case.
  • fadein - I have no idea what this word is
  • seise - This is an archaic spelling of "seize" (see below)
  • seizure - A genuine, bona fide exception.
  • weird - Well, "weird" is just weird, but I would contend that the vowel sound in this word is a diphthong rather than a long e. It's more like wee-ird than weerd.

In conclusion, it is not a hard and fast rule, but there are not as many exceptions as you might think. If, like Citizen Aim, you were taught in school that this rule applies to the spelling of all words containing an adjacent i and e, then you were taught by idiots. An all too common experience...

Frankenstein and zeitgeist, among other exceptions to the rule (notably proper names, including Fahrenheit), are of German origin - and 'i before e' is NOT a rule of the German language. German 'ei' is pronounced as the long 'i', while 'ie' is pronounced as the long 'e'. Hence,
"Stein" (shtine, stone),
"weil" (vile, while), and
"Wein" (vine, wine)
"Wien" (veen, Vienna),
"vier" (feer, four), and
"Bier" (beer, beer).

Well, just to make the node complete, here are the three most common rhymes:


I before E
except after C
or when it sounds like A
as in "neighbor" and "weigh".


When the sound is 'ee'
it's I before E
except after C.

Brian Regan

I before E,
except after C
or when sounding like A
as in "neighbor" and "weigh"
and on weekends and holidays
and all throughout May
and you'll always be wrong,
no matter what you say!

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