Rogue Words from A to Z: I Before E, Except After Idiots Drink Too Much Coffee

How many of you had this rule taught to you in school?

I Before E

Except After C

Or When Sounded as A

As in Neighbour and Weigh.

There’s another version of this too, which goes

I Before E

Except After C

When the Sound is EE.

A to Z Letter IThis rhyme would be helpful if it weren’t for those words that are exceptions to the rule. Words like their, weird, and caffeine are some of the more common ones. In fact, there are so many words that are exceptions to the I before E “rule” that some believe it is useless and should be abandoned.

Many of us have had this rhyme drilled into us in childhood and struggle daily with remembering how to spell the exceptions properly. Even drinking several cups of coffee, with all its caffeine, doesn’t keep our brains sharp enough to deal with these weird words.

So for today, I’d like to share a very short parable about coffee to help you recall some of the most critical words that break the I before E spelling rule.

After drinking a surfeit of caffeine, a kaleidoscope of weird images seized their attention like either a scientifically precise heist or a nonpareil sleight of hand. They saw foreign sovereigns leisurely riding feisty heifers of fantastical height. The resulting counterfeit seismic disturbance made them forfeit lunch.

The moral of this story: Don’t drink too much coffee…and be sure to take all spelling “rules” with a grain of salt!

Do you have an ie or ei word that you struggle with? And do you prefer coffee or tea?


This post is dedicated to Carrie Rubin.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will take a jab at that jittery letter J…


Β© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

63 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: I Before E, Except After Idiots Drink Too Much Coffee

  1. I once saw the comedian Gallagher (unless it was actually his twin brother who he would send out to do his act occasionally) in college. Other than him smashing watermelons and stuff, the thing I really remember from his performance.

    “I before E, except after C. Einstein got that wrong. Twice.”

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I do indeed struggle with ‘caffeine’ and ‘weird.’ No matter how many times I type them. Sigh.

    Thank you for the mention! I’m loving your series. As for coffee or tea? Always tea for me, please. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought French had lots of exceptions…..that was a good spelling lesson, hoping to remember them all! Coffee in the morning for sure – tea, sometimes in the afternoon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There will be a quiz later. πŸ˜‰ I see you need to wake up in the morning! I can’t stand coffee, but I love a good strong chai tea to start the day off right.


    1. Hi, C.D.! Thanks for commenting. English is such a mishmash, I’m amazed it works at all. I have a lot of admiration for English teachers who try to help make sense of the mess. Unfortunately a lot of them end up falling back on simple rules that aren’t always helpful (or accurate). Sounds like yours was one of those!


  4. I’ve never heard of any of the extended version of the ‘I before E except after C’ “rule” so that made me chuckle. ‘Receive’ always gave me trouble when I was younger and ‘caffeine’ still does.

    Coffee is forever superior to tea! πŸ˜›

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah bah, no, tea is the nectar of the gods, and coffee is like dirt! πŸ˜‰

      I used to have trouble with receive, too. And I’d definitely rather drink caffeine than spell it.


  5. what a fun post. I used to teach adult literacy and many students hoped for a rule. These days I marvel I ever got paid for my spelling

    zannierose A-Z – mainly coffee


  6. For some reason, I sometimes have trouble with “their.” Every now and then, I’ll start over thinking it and wonder, “is it ‘ie’, ‘ei’?” At which point I depend on spell check to tell me. And “weird” I remember because, well, it’s weird that it breaks the rule. πŸ˜‰ Which, I now see, isn’t weird at all, but I’m sticking with it! πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I say keeping sticking with that if it helps! Good tip. I have words like their, too, where the longer I stare at it, the more I can’t decide which way is right.


    1. I think I learned most of my spelling through all the reading I do. The ones that trip me up are the ones that don’t show up very much in writing. I am picturing you with that coffee right now. πŸ™‚


    1. Yep, I could have written a whole other set of words like those! That’s where that “when the sound is ee” part of the rhyme came from, but then there’s all those other exceptions. It just gives you a headache, doesn’t it?


  7. I prefer coffee most of the time when I’m writing. (One of the major characters in “that novel” has a psychological addiction to coffee — long story.) I drink a lot of tea, too. And occasionally that fake “coffee” stuff made from roasted barley and chicory, although that started as research for a story.

    I was taught the “…as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh'” version. (I was also taught that the vowels were “A, E, I, O, and U — and sometimes Y and W.”) I don’t have trouble with ‘ie’ versus ‘ei’ spellings, but I have no idea WHY I don’t have trouble with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t have a lot of trouble with these ones, either – I think it’s just because of all the reading I do. I have to ask you – how is the fake coffee stuff? I have never tried it, but I’ve had tea with chicory in it and that was quite good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was pretty good, although it doesn’t taste much like coffee. The flavor is more smooth/less acidic. It also works well for combining with real coffee if you want ‘half-caf’ or whatever.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. This is such a great post. I remember teaching spelling rules to my daughter, and then discussing the exceptions with her.

    I like both hot tea and iced tea, but hot coffee is the beverage that I must have every day. πŸ™‚

    I still get confused almost all of the “ei” and “ie” combinations.

    Today in my “I” post I used the verb “effected”. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Iced tea is wonderful to have in the summer. πŸ™‚ That’s great you used “effected” in your post! I’m sadly behind on visiting my blog list, I’ll be sure to pop by and take a look.


  9. It is a funny rule, considering that it applies so infrequently. I suppose that many of the words used by children that have “ie” instead of “ei” are simple and often used. Children perhaps talk of caffeine less often, but of friends more frequently. Maybe that’s how it happened? It’s the only idea to make sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great theory. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was why the i before e rule happened. (I certainly hope children don’t talk a lot about caffeine!) Thanks for stopping by and commenting. πŸ™‚


    1. I think a lot of our brainpower worsens with age! I guess it’s time to find some kind of apple of youth or something, otherwise I’ll have to give up on a career in word advice after a while. πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, no coffee or tea! That’s fantastic, Lori. I’m sure you’re better hydrated than the rest of us. πŸ˜‰ I’m curious what your favourite morning drink is.

      I learned the “neighbour” part later in school, but I never heard about the other version (sounds like “ee”) until I started researching this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I hate any rules that are “this not that” because my mind inevitably muddles the two and it becomes worse than useless – it leads to me second-guessing myself and making things wrong. My chief complaint however would be the word “chief,” as it was over this word that I remember realizing this fact about myself!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. After spending time in the UK, I learned that the important thing is access to both, to offer to guests and provide that little bit of hospitality πŸ˜€ That and an electric kettle for easy production… although that has become a Keurig for me!

        Liked by 1 person

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