Fwd: "i" before "e" except after "c"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Jun 24 17:27:28 UTC 2009

Comments interleaved.

At 6/24/2009 12:58 PM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
On Jun 23, 2009, at 9:41 PM, Pauline Bryant wrote:
>>>The rule works pretty well if you were taught the whole rule:
>>>i before e
>>>except after c
>>>when the sound is ee. .....(That sound is [i] or ~ee.)
>>>It's the last line that makes the rule work.

I don't understand this last line.  Is it "when the sound is ee"
after a C?  That doesn't seem to add anything useful, I think,
because all the C-words are spelled ei.  (Except science, which has a

>>>We were told that the only exception to the rule is 'seize', though
>>>'protein' and 'caffeine' are other exceptions, and there may be a
>>>few more.
>>also WEIRD, and for a great many americans: EITHER, NEITHER,
>>LEISURE, SHEIKH (if you have /i/ in them).

These of course are covered by "my" rubric and its exception.  (And
aren't none of these dependent on pronunciation?  It's only the
"neighbor and weigh" group that depend on pronunciation; none of the
"neither leisured foreigner" group is pronounced with an A?)

>>plus substance names in -
>>EIN(E) -- CODEINE as well as PROTEIN and CAFFEINE as above (though
>>i'm not sure how you would teach this set of exceptions as a set).

These are 19th or 20th-century words -- we just have to invent a new rubric.

>>and  some proper names, like KEITH (alas, KIETH occurs both as a
>>personal name and a family name) and SHEILA (alas, again, SHIELA
>>also occurs).
>>meanwhile, this version of the rule says nothing about cases where
>>the sound is not /i/, as in the very commonly misspelled THEIR and
>>in straightforward /e/ cases, like NEIGHBOR, WEIGH, VEIN

How did "their" slip through the cracks?

>>and in the
>>cases of (N)EITHER pronounced with /ai/ and LEISURE pronounced with /
>>E/ and SHEIKH pronounced with /e/,

See the rubric and the last standing exception.

>>and in STEIN (both common noun

Uh-oh -- another standee.  Add to the new rubric.

>>and proper name), FEINGOLD, etc., with /ai/, and in SCIENCE and
>>other cases where the letters represent two vowels in sequence.
>>this is the usual british version; joel berson has posted the most
>>common american version (I before E except after C or when sounded
>>like A, as in NEIGHBOR and WEIGH -- plus a list of exceptions, which
>>is incomplete).


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