I before E except after C (notes by Mark Wainwright)(Spelling)
This old schoolroom spelling rule is supposed to help remember the spelling of vowels pronounced /i:/, the long "e" sound of "feed". It has no value for words where the vowel is pronounced in any other way, the key fact which people bemused by many "exceptions" to the rule usually do not realise. A version often cited in the U.K. makes the restriction clear: When the sound is /i:/, it's I before E except after C. A common U.S. version: ... or when pronounced /eI/ as in "neighbour" and "weigh". is misleading, as "ei" has many other pronunciations, as in, for instance, "height", "heifer", and "forfeit". The rule also fails to apply to names (Sheila, Keith, Leigh, etc.). "I before E": Properly applied, the rule is a very useful guide for people who are not naturally excellent spellers; those who are may look out for themselves. To an RP speaker, the exceptions in common use are very few: they are "seize", "inveigle", "caffeine", "protein", and "codeine". (The last three were originally pronounced as three-syllable words.) Other dialects pronounce a few other -ei- words with /i:/, making extra exceptions: "either" and "neither" (RP vowel: /aI/, as in "pie"), "geisha" and "sheik(h)" (RP: /eI/, as in "say"), and "leisure" (RP: /E/, as in "get"). (Of course, derivatives of the above words, such as "seizure", "decaffeinate", and "sheik(h)dom", are spelled similarly.) There are many exceptions in Scots, so speakers with a large Scots vocabulary may as well give up on this rule. The vowel in "weir" and "weird" is usually quite different, as comparison of "weird" and "weed" will show; for most speakers, "weird" has a diphthong. "except after C": Fowler, who called the rule "very useful", noted: "The c exception covers the many derivatives of Latin _capio_ [= "take"], which are in such common use (_receive_, _deceit_, _inconceivable_; cf. _relieve_, _belief_, _irretrievable_) that a simple rule of thumb is necessary." For most Britons, /i:/ after C is always "ei" rather than "ie", except in "specie" and "species". Americans generally pronounce -cies and -cied in words derived from -cy endings (e.g., "fancies" and "fancied" from "fancy") with /i:/ rather than /I/, making these words exceptions. Still, few people have any difficulty pluralizing -y, so such speakers should still be able to extract some value from the rule, by the application of a little common sense.
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