The most difficult part of any language is the spelling, I get many questions about spelling in my lessons. One of the most interesting cases is the use of “ie” or “ei”, especially after the letter “c”.
Many moons ago, when I was a teenager (yes, I can remember that far back), I had an English teacher who loved teaching English using rules. Now, I do agree that rules are important however, the sad thing is that most of the time there are exceptions.
The rule she used to recite for use when we asked about “ie” or “ei” was the following: “i” before “e” except after “c”. Let me give you an example. The word “receipt” is problematic for most of us, both the spelling and the pronunciation of it. The spelling is problematic because it sounds like we should write it as “reciept” and the pronunciation is difficult because of the silent “p”. This is why she told us that, when writing, we should look at the letter before. Here we have a “c” so then we have to write “ei”.
Now I hear you all saying that it is easy, the rule works... Well...
Firstly, the rule she gave us was incomplete, it should say: “i” before “e”, except after “c” or when sounded as “a”. It also applies to words where the “ie” makes the “ee” sound. Oi...
Examples again: when I pronounce “neighbour” or “weigh”, the sound resembles that of “a” and should be written is “ei”. When I pronounce “piece”, “achieve” and “belief”, the sound is “ee” and should be written as “ie”.
I know, one rule which is getting more complex. To add to the confusion, this rule also works after “w”: weird, weight and Rottweiler...
In fact, the original rule my teacher taught me only works in about 44 cases and doesn’t work for many, many other words.
I can tell you that the origin of the word, proper names, chemical names and plural forms are more important in deciding how to spell the word but that is a very long and complicated discussion, best left for a lesson in a classroom with your favourite English teacher.
I hope that I have not confused you too much, languages are complex things, ever changing and evolving like a living creature and we have to remember this. We should never stop learning a language.
Till next time, folks!
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