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Funny Grammar Mistakes: I before E except after C

“I before E except after C” is one of the most commonly known English grammar rules, and one that we all learn at an early age, yet for many people this simple rule continues to cause trouble and mistakes time and time again, whether it is when writing personal notes, at work, or in college and university work.

I before E…

As we all learn at school, “I before E” is a rhyme to help us remember the most common combination of the letters ‘i’ and ‘e’ in English spelling. Where the two letters are found next to one another in a word, the ‘i’ almost always comes first, making the sound ‘ie’.

Some good examples are: friend, tried, priest, fiend and cried.

The problem is that the sound made by the double vowel in each of these words is not always the same, and it is this tricky variable pronunciation of the ‘ie’ sound that causes it to be such a common spelling mistake. It is for this reason that a rhyme is used to help pupils remember that the ‘i’ should come before the ‘e’.

Since it is such a staple of English grammar lessons, it is rather embarrassing that this school have handed out a reward card with the word ‘achievement’ incorrectly spelt – let’s just hope the super star award wasn’t for learning spelling rules!

…Except after C

The major exception to the “I before E except after C” rule, is that when a letter ‘c’ is directly before the vowels their positions are reversed, changing to “ei”.

For example: ceiling, received, deceitful

However, there are also a few other common exceptions that it is useful to remember, as they are frequently used words and it is worth learning their correct spellings. In these cases, there is no letter ‘c’, but the ‘ei’ form is still used.

The most common examples are: their, weigh, sleigh and vein

Unfortunately for this hapless Dairy Queen restaurant, ‘specials’ is not one of the exceptions to the ‘I before E’ rule – in fact, the word doesn’t even actually have the two vowels next to one another, so this poor sign-maker was wrong on several different levels!


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