Sunday, March 25, 2007

I before E

There's a mnemonic to help you remember the correct spelling of ie/ei words:

    I before E except after C,
    and when sounding like Ay as in neighbour and weigh,
    and on weekends and holidays, and all throughout May.

I like this version better than the more commonly heard British and American ones, because in my opinion in demonstrates the absurdity of any rules where there are so many exceptions -- perhaps more exceptions than words that actually follow the rule.

Here are just a handful of the exceptions:

    beige, caffeine, eight, either, feisty, foreign, freight, heifer, heist, leisure, neither, seize, sheik, species, veil, weird

Many people have tried to extend the I before E rule with various caveats and qualifications, eventually reaching the height of absurdity above. There's a spirited defence of the English-style I before E rule here, but I think it is informative that although the author gives no fewer than twenty exceptions to the extended rule, he only gives six words that follow the rule:

    relieve, belief, irretrievable; receive, deceit, inconceivable

Despite all the caveats, there are exceptions to all the extended rules, which leads me to the conclusion that the rule simply is no good as a general purpose mnemonic.

1 comment:

the_missus said...

Hang on, hang on, hang on! He forgot friend. Which sucks, because I am so very very very VERY sick and tired of seeing "freind" out there in the wild. It's not just that that's a misspelling, it's that it looks uuuuugly :-(