Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Some Spelling Help

     In my rounds as the English language’s foremost defender on the Web, I’ve noticed that an old and very useful rule about spelling has been neglected — possibly with malice aforethought. There’s no help for it; I must once again leap into action.

     The rule:

I before E,
Except After C,
Or When Sounded Like A,
As In Neighbor And Weigh

     The rule applies when the letters i and e occur juxtaposed within the same syllable. Therefore:

  1. It’s not peice, it’s piece.
  2. It’s not seige, it’s siege.
  3. It’s not feild, it’s field.
  4. It’s not cheif, it’s chief.
  5. It’s not breif, it’s brief.
  6. It’s not freind, it’s friend.
  7. It’s not acheive, it’s achieve.
  8. It’s not conciet, it’s conceit (note the c).
  9. It’s not cieling, it’s ceiling (note the c).
  10. It’s not recieve, it’s receive (note the c).
  11. It’s not vien, it’s vein (Sounded like a).
  12. It’s not hienous, it’s heinous (Sounded like a).

     And so on. There are some exceptions. Two come to mind at once: seize and weird. But there aren’t many others.

     Note the single-syllable aspect of the rule. When the i and the e are parts of two different syllables, they can be in reverse order. For example, consider the word society, where because of the preceding c we would normally expect the e before the i. The syllabification dictates the exception: so-ci-e-ty.

     If you write, it’s important to spell correctly -- especially if you write fiction. I’m not trying to be a dictator about this, but the rule is easy to remember and easy to follow, so why let such elementary mistakes in spelling spoil the legibility of your prose? Granted that most spellcheckers will catch such errors for you, remembering to use the spellchecker can be a problem all by itself!

     Verbum sat sapienti.


coyoteken48 said...

Make it simple---think field and height. For spelling and pronouncing it just about always works. --ken

Jeff said...

And leisure, either, neither, and seizure (LENS).

John said...

Actually there are more exceptions than examples. Merriam Webster has updated the 'rule':

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'.

Some other exceptions: