English is Weird

I Before E

By Lauren Molin

Let’s all admit it – even though native speakers have been speaking it practically since birth, English is, well, weird. 

Speaking can be difficult enough, but at least communication can be done as long as gestures and correct vocabulary is used. Writing it, however, can be a huge pain. I’m hoping that this column, while certainly not solving all your English concerns, will at least bring weird English to light and make you think about it.

When you think of weird English, what are the first things that come to mind? Periods, commas, plurals?

I’m going to guess that ‘‘i’ before ‘e’’ appears on the list. It definitely appeared on most of my friends.

‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’

Or like sounding like ‘eye’ or ‘aye’ as in ‘Einstein’ or ‘weigh’

‘Neither’, ‘weird’, ‘foreign’, ‘leisure’. ‘seize’, ‘forfeit’, and ‘height’

Are exceptions spelled right

But don’t let the C-I-E-N rules get you uptight!


Ok, sounds easy enough. Those are the 9 exceptions, right?

But wait.

What about ‘beige’ or ‘neighbor’? Aren’t those a part of another ‘i’ before ‘e’ poem?

And what about ‘freight’? ‘Atheism’? ‘Eight’?? ‘Schlockmeister’??? (it’s a real word I swear, look it up)

Actually, only 44 words follow the ‘i’ before ‘e’ rule. 44.

Guess how many break it? Go on, guess.


Maybe I’m odd, but that doesn’t seem like a rule to me. Doesn’t even seem like a guideline.

Certainly doesn’t seem very efficient.

Turns out, the poem IS correct, but it only applies to words where ie and ei stand for the long ‘e’ sound. And even then it has exceptions.

According to Merriam Webster, the best poem for the ‘rule’ would likely be,


I before e, except after c

Or when sounded as ‘a’ as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh’

Unless the ‘c’ is part of a ‘sh’ sound as in ‘glacier’

Or it appears in comparatives and superlatives like ‘fancier’

And also except when the vowels are sounded as ‘e’ as in ‘seize’

Or ‘i’ as in ‘height’

Or also in ‘-ing’ inflections ending in ‘-e’ as in ‘cueing’

Or in compound words as in ‘albeit’

Or occasionally in technical words with strong etymological links to their parent languages as in ‘cuneiform’

Or in other numerous and random exceptions such as ‘science’, ‘forfeit’, and ‘weird’.

While it doesn’t rhyme, it actually works pretty well. If you can remember it all, that is.


2 thoughts on “I Before E

  1. Pingback: April, Volume 2 | Good Morning Aomori

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