Spelling: I before e

BizWritingTip reader: “I learned the rule ‘I before e except after c’ many years ago. A colleague of mine stated there are exceptions to this rule, and I am curious as to what words those would be. Can you give me an example when ‘i’ can be used before the ‘e’? Is there a rule that will remind me?”

BizWritingTip response: I also remember learning this rhyme years ago. But there are many exceptions to the rule: beige, codeine, deify, deity, deign, dreidel, eider, eight, feign, feint, feisty, foreign, freight, heifer, heigh-ho, heinous, heir, heist, neigh, neighbour, peignoir, rein, Rottweiler, science, seine, seismic, seize, sheik, society, sovereign, surfeit, their, veil, vein, weight, and weir.

Unfortunately, you were not taught the last few words of the rhyme:

” i before e, except after c,

or when sounded like ‘a’
as in neighbor and weigh.”

But there are even exceptions to this rule: seize and seizure and also leisureweirdheighteitherforfeit, and neither.

Frankly, instead of trying to defend the guideline — “i before e except after c” — why don’t we all agree that it’s a dumb rule and just let it go?




There are numerous English words that have the same meaning but are spelled/spelt differently. For example, in Britain and in many other English speaking countries people write “centre” and “organize.” But in the U.S., writers use “center” and “organise.” Why?

The reason is interesting. In the early 1900s, the American industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie believed English could become a universal language. He, therefore, funded a group of 26 well known Americans – including the author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) – to discuss the issue.

This organization decided English would be easier to learn if words were spelled phonetically and silent letters (e.g., “e” in “axe”) were removed. They called themselves the Simplified Spelling Board.

So as to not overwhelm people with an entirely new way of spelling, the board released a list of 300 words whose spelling should be changed immediately. It was intended that other words would be changed at a later date.

The schools welcomed the change, and the American President Teddy Roosevelt (known as an extremely bad speller) sent a letter to the United States Printing Office ordering it to use the new spellings.

Unfortunately, the American Congress opposed the changes, and the media turned the issue into a long-running joke. President Roosevelt then rescinded his order to the Government Printing Office.

The Simplified Spelling Board continued to meet for several more years. However, the popularity of phonetic spelling began to decrease after the government failed to support Roosevelt. But when browsing the list of 300 words today, it’s interesting to note that many of the “new” suggested spellings are in use today in the U.S.

Take a look at the original 300 words.