As grammar school students, assuming we were not known for our truancies, we — like probably every other English-speaking person in society — learned a simple rule: I before E, except after C.
The rules-of-thumb is more art than science, dicier than most due to the number of exceptions it has. Some exceptions are weird; some others are fancier than you might expect. In total, there are literally thousands of exceptions to the rule – in fact, there are more occurrences of “cie” in the English language than the “proper” usage of “cei.” (One online dictionary counts 540 of the former and merely 126 of the latter.) There is no question that the rule, given its inadequacies, makes us inefficient. We should probably stop teaching the rhyme, with it being an ancient mnemonic device and all; however, efforts to rein in its use have been only moderately successful. Perhaps its continued use is the product of thinly veiled conspiracies? (Okay, more likely, it’s simply out of tradition.)
Either way, correctly identifying exceptions weighs heavily against the caffeine-addled brains of many tired writers (albeit not all of them). Those who are more proficient in the language are better at avoiding these outliers than their less experienced counterparts. But regardless, the rule is easy to violate. As proof, in the words above (and excluding the picture), the “I before E, except after C” rule has been violated eighteen times.
Make that nineteen.
From the Archives: Tittle: The “i”s have it. (Click, and you’ll see.)
Related: “I Before E (Except After C): Old School Ways to Remember Stuff” by Judy Parkinson. 4.5 stars on 16 reviews. Available on Kindle.