Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lexie. Lexie Wonders, “Why do teachers use the i before e except after c rule, when it's not valid?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lexie!
What do you think is the most difficult subject in school? For many kids, it’s math or science. Others find social studies or art class challenging. Still, many kids might point to language arts—and they would likely tell you the most difficult part is learning to spell!
English—like most languages—is complex. That’s why it has rules for things like grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Still, these rules can be difficult to remember. That’s especially true when there are exceptions to the rule.
Over its long history, the English language has been influenced and shaped by many others. That’s why its spelling rules are often difficult to remember and don’t apply equally to all words. Many English words follow spelling practices of the languages they came from. These include Old Norse, French, and Latin. English was also influenced by the Celtic languages.
The English alphabet has 26 letters, but the language includes 44 different speech sounds. This is another reason why English spelling can be difficult. English speakers must combine letters to make many sounds, and not all letters are always combined the same way.
One example is the letters “I” and “E.” Maybe you’ve heard a certain rhyming rule for combining these letters. It goes, “‘I’ before ‘E,’ except after ‘C.’” It’s a lesson many kids learn in school. But does this rule always hold up?
The answer is no. In fact, there are many exceptions to this rule. Let’s look at the first part of the rule first: In many words, “I” in fact should not come before “E,” even without “C” in the picture. A few examples are “neigh,” “sleigh,” and “beige.”
Of course, all of those examples have one thing in common. In each word, the letters “E” and “I” combine to make the sound of a long “A.” Many people point out that perhaps this should be added to the rule. However, “‘I’ before “E” unless it sounds like ‘A.’” doesn’t always hold up, either. Exceptions include “foreign,” “either,” and “height.”
The second part of the rule has many exceptions, too. When “I” and “E” follow “C,” their order isn’t always reversed. A few examples are “science,” “glacier,” and “concierge.”
How can anyone expect to remember these rules and exceptions? That’s where practice comes in! The more often you read and write words, the more likely your brain is to remember the correct spelling. Eventually, you may remember the correct spellings of “dicier” and “neither.” And, if not, you can always check the dictionary!
Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.L.1, NCAS.A.1, NCAS.A.2, NCAS.A.3, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.SL.3, CCRA.L.2