I before E except after C: The Most Famous English Spelling Rule and its Exceptions

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When you begin learning English spelling, ‘I before E except after C’ is probably one of the first spelling rules you’ll come across. Today we’re going to take a closer look at this spelling rule. Does it always work? Are there any exceptions? When should you spell a word ‘E before I’?

  1. Most of the time, when spelling a long /e/ sound in the MIDDLE of a word, the rule applies. Click here to test yourself on some words that are spelled ‘I before E’. Some examples of the long /e/ sound in the middle of a word are: field, believe, and cashier. Of course, as always, there are exceptions (for example: protein, weird, and Keith) and it is important to learn these as you go along.
  2. At the end of a word, the long /e/ sound is usually spelled with the letter y. Words with an e sound at the end that are spelled with the letters ie, include abbreviated words like budgie (budgerigar), affectionate pet names like auntie (aunt), and slang words like goalie (goal keeper). Other exceptions to the‘–y to spell the long /e/ sound at the end of the word’ rule include: calorie and genie.
  3. Some words are spelled ‘E before I’ even though there is no letter c. This is because the ‘I before E except after C’ spelling rule only works when spelling the ee sound. ‘E before I’ is one of the ways of spelling the long /a/ sound. For example: weigh, reindeer, and neighbour. Try amending the rule to ‘I before E except after C and only when the sound is EE’. Of course, as always, there are exceptions (for example: lie, review, and friend) and it is important to learn these as you go along.
  4. Don’t forget that when you add a suffix to a word ending in –y, you need to change the y to ani first. In some cases this means that a word that is spelled ‘I before E’ may not be pronounced with a long /e/ sound. For example: cries and supplies. It also means that when some suffixes are added to root words ending with –cy, the new word will be spelled ‘I before E’ even after the letter c. For example: emergencies (from emergency) and fancier (from fancy).
  5. Sometimes the letters ci are used to spell a /sh/ sound. You can learn more about these words in Unit 30. In cases like this, you should spell the word ‘I before E’ even after the letter c. For example: ancient and conscience.

Now that you’ve read through our list of tips, why not test yourself on these exceptions to the rule. Click on the ‘eye’ icon at the top of each list to take a ‘Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check’ test; the ‘ear’ icon to take a ‘Listen and Spell’ test; and the ‘football’ icon to play games using these words.

You can learn more about this spelling rule in Unit 21. Subscribe to Spellzone for extra tips and plenty of practice. Have a good week!

23 Feb 2016
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