"i" before "e" except after "c"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Jun 24 18:35:20 UTC 2009

On Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 1:42 PM, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Something profoundly symbolic in all this.  It takes a teacher a minute or
> so to teach the rule correctly. That rule will allow students, by and
> large, to save many minutes over their lifetimes that would otherwise be
> wasted in misspelling words that needn't be misspelled.  On the whole, a
> plus.
> Yet the British educational opponents of the rule have (or have been
> misreported as having) seized on it for special scorn and removal from the
> curriculum.

See Geoff Pullum's update to his Language Log post:


The relevant passage of the "Support For Spelling" document states:

http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/183127 (p. 106)
Note: The i before e except after c rule is not worth teaching. It
applies only to words in which the ie or ei stands for a clear /ee/
sound and unless this is known, words such as sufficient, veil and
their look like exceptions. There are so few words where the ei
spelling for the /ee/ sound follows the letter c that it is easier to
learn the specific words: receive, conceive,deceive (+ the related
words receipt, conceit, deceit), perceive and ceiling.

Geoff writes, "What the document actually says is basically right in
every respect (by 'clear ee sound' they mean monophthongal [i:]). They
are saying that teaching the list of '-cei-' words directly is a
better strategy than teaching the rule: it is not sufficiently general
to pay its way. It was the moronic press reports and radio discussions
that made it sound as if rules were being abandoned and (one was
invited to infer) standards lowered."

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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