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I love grammar. (This is surprising to exactly no one at this point, right?) But we’re taking a timeout from grammar this week to talk about spelling. The topic: when “i” comes before “e”. It seems like that’s the most common trip-up in the English language today. You know why? Because there is no consistency.

But What About “I” Before “E” Except After “C”?

Sure, as a general rule, that’s a great phrase to remember. Most of the time, it’s true. See the example below:

Naomi believed that giant spiders were going to descend from the ceiling in her room at any moment, so she kept a broom by her bedside at all times.

And its cousin, “…or when sounded as ‘A’ as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh’,” can also be helpful. However, this is not even remotely a hard-and-fast rule. Let’s continue Naomi’s story:

She had to forfeit the broom, though, when her mother started noticing a weird thumping noise that was foreign to the normal household noises.

Further proof that the English language makes no sense. Comedian Brian Regan sums it up best in this clip. I wish there was a nice, neat, tidy rule for this one. Practice makes perfect though, and the more you use those weird e-before-i words, the more naturally you’ll be able to spell them.


Take a quick five minutes and come up with a list of i-before-e and e-before-i words. For the remaining ten minutes of practice time, use as many of those words as you can to describe a threat to a city/house/treehouse. It could be an impending missile, or giant spiders attacking. Post your practice in the comments and leave notes for your fellow writers.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.
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