i before e except after c – a useful English spelling rule

English spelling is tricky because sometimes words look nothing like they sound. But here’s a rule that can help: i before e except after c.
Join Vicki and Jay at a spelling bee, or spelling competition as we call them in the UK. You’ll learn when it’s useful to apply the rule and when it isn’t. You’ll also meet our friend Claire from English at Home and learn about some British and American English differences.

Click here to watch more ‘how to’ videos.
Click here to learn about some more British and American differences.

i before e except after c – an English spelling bee

Let’s face it. English spelling is crazy. The way we write words is often nothing like they sound. But maybe there are some rules we follow.
We’ve collaborated on this video with our good friend Clare from English at Home.
Clare is British like me, and she has a YouTube channel too.
Make sure you subscribe to her channel so you can see all her great lessons.
Yeah. In this lesson we’re going to take you to a spelling competition.
Or a spelling bee as we call them in American English.
While you watch, try to work out what spelling rule we’re following.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Tiddly on Thames spelling competition. Let’s meet our two finalists: Jay and Vicki.
OK. The first word is for Vicki. Chief. For example, global warming is one of the chief problems we face today. Chief.
CHIEF.
Correct. Now Jay, your word is believe. For example: I don’t believe in ghosts.
Don’t you? I do.
Please spell the word, Jay.
BELIEVE.
Correct. Vicki, your next word is brief. For example, there was a brief pause in the conversation.
BRIEF.
Excellent. OK, Jay your next word is receive. For example: They posted the letter but we didn’t receive it.
So they mailed it but we didn’t get it?
Just spell the word ‘receive’, please Jay.
RECEIVE.
Correct.

Do you know the spelling rule? It’s i before e except after c. So if you’ve got an i and an e together, the i comes first.
Chief, believe and brief follow this pattern and so do lots more words:
achieve, niece, diesel, hygiene, piece, thief.
But if you have an i and an e after c, the e comes first. So receive follows this pattern and there are others.
Deceive, deceit, receipt, ceiling, conceive.
So this is the rule, but do we always follow it? Let’s go back to the competition and see.

OK, Jay, your next word is leisure. For example, when people work shorter hours, they have more leisure time.
Oh, you mean leisure.
I mean leisure. Please spell the word.
LEISURE.
Correct. Vicki, your next word is foreign: For example: Jay is American. He isn’t British. He’s foreign.
Oh yeah, foreign. FOREIGN.
Correct. The score is three points to Vicki and three points to Jay. This is the final round. Jay, your word is scientist. For example, the British scientist Charles Babbage invented the computer.
I thought it was invented by American scientists.
Just spell the word please.
SCIENTIST.
Correct. Vicki, please spell the word efficient. For example, the British National Health Service is very efficient.
Is it?
Yes, it’s excellent. EFFICIENT.
Correct.

OK, so there we saw some examples where the rule doesn’t work. The i didn’t come before the e. And there are more words where the rule doesn’t work.
Some are common words, like their, and the number eight. And there are some measurement words – weigh, weight and height. And then there’s weird.
Weird means strange or peculiar. Perhaps you can remember how to spell it because the spelling of weird is weird.
And we don’t always follow the other part rule – the except after c. So after c it should be e then i, but look at the words science and efficient. It’s i then e. We also have words like ancient, glacier and conscience.
So is it worth learning this rule if we break it? Before you answer we want to show you something.
Here are more some words that follow the rule. Notice their pronunciation. They all have an eee sound. Beleeeve, cheeeef, acheeeve, eee.
And here are some words with a c. They all follow the rule too! Again there’s an eee sound. Receeeive. Ceeeiling, deceeeive,
So if we change the rule a little, it works. We just have to add a bit that says, ‘if the word has an eee sound’.
Lets go back to the competition and see who wins.

Our competitors are tied, so we will now go to a sudden death round. You will both spell the same word. But if one person makes a mistake, the other person will win. Vicki, please put your headphones on so you can’t hear Jay’s answer.
Jay, the word is neighbour. For example, our neighbour complained about the noise from the party. Neighbour.
NEIGHBOR.
Thank you Jay. Vicki, please take off your head phones and spell the word neighbour.
NEIGHBOUR
That is the correct answer. Congratulations Vicki! Jay, I’m afraid you spelt it wrongly.
But… but my answer was right. That’s how we spell it in American English.
American spelling is weird.
Hard luck Jay and well done Vicki.

And that’s it for this week.
Make sure you subscribe to our channel to see more of our videos.
And be sure to subscribe to Clare’s channel, English at Home, too. See you next Friday everyone! Bye-bye.
Click here to watch more ‘how to’ videos.
Click here to learn about some more British and American differences.

2 thoughts on “i before e except after c – a useful English spelling rule

  • June 21, 2018 at 4:05 am
    Permalink

    I like it very much. I’m smiling each time I’m watching your lessons. Thank you.

    Reply
    • June 29, 2018 at 6:37 am
      Permalink

      So glad you like it Alexey! We have fun making the videos. Thanks for writing.

      Reply

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