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The ‘I before E’ rule is done. October 14, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
Tags: , ,

This familiar spelling mnemonic has been around for a long time (circa 1876). But, it doesn’t work anymore. It recently occurred to me that there are many exceptions to this rule. So many, that it is not useful as a rule anymore. I realized this as I struggled in spelling the word ‘efficient’.

I know but, hey, it happens. Thanks to the online spell checking, I noticed I kept spelling it incorrectly. I tried variations ‘effecient’ – nope; ‘efficeint’ – no, wrong again. It didn’t look right, feel right. Eventually, I spelled it correctly and that’s when the ‘i before e’ rule came to mind. A short time later and a quick check via wikipedia shows that there are more exceptions to this rule than I realized. To paraphrase William Safire “When there are more execeptions than rules, there aren’t any rules”.

Each of us has a few words that are routinely mis-typed. I submit that this happens regularly when using any device with a keyboard. A problem of our modern age, I suppose. Don’t remember that problem when writing with pen and paper. Slower processor speed perhaps had something to do with that. There is another old saw about rules, exceptions and also how they are meant to be broken.

Efficient, indeed.


1. Laura - October 14, 2010

I admit that I still use the “I before E” rule to remember if it’s “conceive” or “concieve,” but rely on my spell-checker to catch the inevitable exceptions.

Edwin Ritter - October 14, 2010

Thanks for your comments and taking the time. I will 2nd guess myself and have come to rely on the spell-check. Not proud of that…

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