What Is the “I Before E Except After C” Rule and Its Exceptions?

Have you ever heard someone say, Don’t forget, “I before e, except after C”? Odds are you have, as this is a common spelling rule, but it has its exceptions. 

In this article, we’ll teach you what this spelling pattern is and how it doesn’t apply to some compound words, superlatives, and more.  

What Is the I Before E Except After C Rule

The “I before e except after c is a mnemonic device that was first recorded in 1866 in the Manual of English Spelling. A helpful rhyme was created to help people remember the rule too. The “I before E Except after c” full rhyme is as follows.

Photo showing the complete I before E except after C rhyme

The rule says you should have the letter “i” before “e.” However, when there is a letter “c” in the word, the letter “e” will go first before the letter “i.” 

For instance, words with “cei” like “ceiling” do not follow the I before E spelling rule. 

I Before E Except After C Examples

Many words in the English language follow this mnemonic rule. Some common examples of words that follow this rule are:

  • Deceive 
  • Receipt 
  • Receive 
  • Conceit  

Are There Exceptions to the Rule?

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, the word “concierge” follows the “cie” spelling even when the letter “c” is present. Words like “cueing” have ‘-ing’ inflections are also exceptions to the I before c Except after C pattern. 

In general, there are four exceptions to the rule. Here is a closer look at each one: 

Words With “Ei” but No “C”

Words that have an “ei” but no “c” often fall into the category of being an exception to the rule. For instance, when you pronounce the word “eight,” the letter “ei” are pronounced like “a”

Here are more words with an “ei” spelling but no “c”:

  • Eight
  • Beige
  • Vein
  • Freight
  • Reign
  • Weight 
  • Heifer

Words With Long “A” Sound

Words that have the long “A” sound (or like the letter “i”) are also part of the “I before e except after c” exception. Common examples of a word that is spelled with an “ie” but produces the long “A” sound include: 

  • Lingerie 
  • Sleight 
  • Height 
  • Heist 

Words With Long “E” Sound

Similar to the long “A” exception, there is a long “E” exception. This exception is more common than the long “A” exception. 

Words spelled with an “ie” will produce the “ee” sound. In the case of this exception, the letters “I” and “E” act as a digraph. A digraph is a combination of two letters that form a single sound.

Common examples of the long “E” exception are:

  • Achieve 
  • Believe 
  • Seize 
  • Yield 
  • Relief 
  • Sovereign 

Words With C as “S” or “SH” Sound

The “I before e except after c” spelling pattern doesn’t apply to words with “c” that are pronounced with “s” or “sh” sounds. Here are some examples:

  • Ancient 
  • Glacier 
  • Conscience 
  • Deficiencies

Be a Spelling Bee Wizard

Aside from the rhyme, you should also pay attention to the pronunciation of the word. For example, if the word makes the long “E” sound and has a letter “c,” it most likely follows the rule. However, when the word makes a long “A” sound but without the letter “c,” it will most likely have an “ei” spelling. 

Once you get the hang of this spelling rule, you will be a master speller in no time.

This post was proofread by Grammarly. Try it - it's FREE!

Capitalize My Title is a dynamic title capitalization tool used to make sure your titles or headlines use proper capitalization rules according to various style guides include APA, AP, MLA, and Chicago. It also counts your words and checks for grammar issues.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here