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Everyone learns the

I before E except after C or as sounded like A as in neighbor and weigh.

But as an English Learner, how much trouble can you get into with this rule? What else do you have learn to know when to apply it and how to use it profitably?

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    As I recently noted on the BBC's trivia show QI, this "rule" works for a handful of common words, but fails miserably in the more general context. It works for only 44 words in the Scrabble Word List, but will cause you to misspell 923 others. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 23:01
  • @FumbleFingers: But if the "rule" is kept in the context of words with a long e sound, formed with an i and an e, I think its stats would fare much better. I don't think the problem is with the "rule" itself, but with people not realizing the limited scope in which it is meant to be applied. I'm guessing the great majority of those 923 words don't have the long e sound, so this "rule" shouldn't be used for those words.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 9:57
  • @J.R.: The general perception is this rule is pretty worthless. Bearing in mind that learners are on average less likely to know the pronunciation anyway, it would be even less useful to them. Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 16:37
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    @FumbleFingers: I disagree with the general perception, then. If I was typing "Be not deceived, the field officer gave a reprieve," then I'd use that "rule" to help me determine the correct spelling of more than one word in that sentence. The "rule" is only "worthless" when applied it words like heiress and hierarchy, but I've never applied the rule to words like that, because, for some reason, I've always known it only applies to long e words. It's only worthless when that important factor is neglected. I must've had a good teacher drill that in my head sometime early on.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 16:47
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    @FumbleFingers: I wouldn't use that rule to help me spell any of those words. Your experiment only proves both our points: the rule is a disaster when you try to use it as a universal rule to spell words in general. It only applies when forming a particular monosyllabic sound with two vowels. In those cases – and in those cases only – it's fairly trustworthy, though not foolproof. Anyhow, I believe this blogger explains it best.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 18:48

2 Answers 2

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The I before E except after C rule has so many exceptions that it is nearly useless. I have seen many people who frequently recite that rule misspelling words that do not conform to it. There are numerous exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions.

While it may help you spell a lot of words correctly, it can also have the opposite effect for many other words, even if you consider common exceptions, pronunciation, and other factors.

Some people argue that this rule should be ignored, and that we should stop teaching it. I agree with them, and would recommend that you forget this rule altogether and just try to remember the correct spellings, using spell-check or looking them up as needed.

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The CIE/CEI rule definitely fails in the following cases ::

  1. Suffixes of words ending with "ce" or "cy" : Fancy ==> Fancier

  2. Inflections of words tht end with "cy" : Fancy ==> Fancies, fancied

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