"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Friday, 23 January 2015


   Most students of English are familiar with the "i before e, except after c" mnemonic  rule of thumb.   If one is unsure whether a word is spelled with the sequence ei or ie, the rhyme suggests that the correct order is ie unless the preceding letter is c, in which case it is ei. For example:

    ie in believe, fierce, collie, die, friend
    ei after c in deceive, ceiling, receipt, ceilidh

Edward Carney calls it "this supreme, and for many people solitary, spelling rule".   However, the short form quoted above (without qualifications concerning pronounciation) has many common exceptions; for example:

    ie after c: species, science, sufficient
    ei not preceded by c: seize, weird, vein, their, foreign, feisty

For some reason there is only one exception that I have trouble with - 'weird', an adjective meaning strikingly odd or unusual, especially in an unsettling way; strange.

So here is a tip to help you remember how to spell it.  'We are weird' - we is the beginning of weird.  Or perhaps all you need to know is that weird is a weird word!


  1. I'd not heard of this rule of thumb before; none of my English teachers ever introduced it in class back when I was still a school girl. Actually, I don't think I have ever had trouble spelling any of the words shown here. But it is interesting to know that these can be difficult.

  2. Weirdly I cannot recall ever having had much trouble with any of these. Perhaps that's to do with much of the learning being done visually from books. I think I more commonly find myself unsure about pronounciation than spelling.

  3. Spelling is the one thing i have to do by rote, word for word. Thank goodness for spell check and dictionaries!

  4. Despite having trouble with many words weird is not one of them. Perhaps I should now saw was not one of them.

    1. Oh dear. Carelessness. I thought that I typed 'say' not 'saw'. Simply because now that you've mentioned it I probably will have difficulty with weird.