'I' Before 'E,' Except in Britain

Just when you think your own government is completely ridiculous, along comes someone else's government to convince you that it's not so bad after all.

The U.K. has officially dumped the "'i' before 'e'" rule as a teaching tool. As in, they actually spent time thinking about it, then determined it to be some sort of menace to schoolchildren. The Times of London reports it this way:

Generations of children have learnt how to spell by chanting "i before e except after c", but new guidance from the Government says that schools should stop teaching the rule because it is irrelevant and confusing.

The National Strategies document Support for Spelling, which is being sent to primary schools, says: "The i before e rule is not worth teaching. It applies only to words in which the ie or ei stands for a clear ee sound. Unless this is known, words such as sufficient and veil look like exceptions.

The thing is, the way I learned the rule, it didn't stop at "after 'c.'" The rule was "'i' before 'e,' except after 'c,' and when sounded like 'a,' as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh.'"

If that's not enough to teach a kid to look out for exceptions to the rule -- which, yes, extend beyond "a"-sounding words -- there are always parents and teachers to tip the moppets off to the fact that the language isn't quite that simple. English is littered with exceptions to its rules, and the sooner children learn that, the better. But the rules stand nonetheless, and memory devices like the "i" before "e" rhyme are helpful.

Even if some of them don't necessarily translate across the pond to American English speakers, as this bit of the Times story proves:

Masha Bell, who has campaigned for English spelling to be simplified, said: "I before e is not a good rule. There are other sayings that are more useful, like 'one collar, two socks' for 'necessary'.

Then again, in Bell's opinion, "spelling is rubbish."
June 20, 2009 5:44 PM |


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This page contains a single entry by Critical Difference published on June 20, 2009 5:44 PM.

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