I’ve read that the spelling mnemonic “I before E except after C” is a useless rule “best forgotten.”
I beg to differ.
English vocabulary abounds with words borrowed from other languages, along with foreign spelling conventions. Any spelling rule we can come up with is certain to have exceptions. Nevertheless, spelling rules are worth learning because they provide a framework that makes the exceptions stand out. The “I before E” rule may not be perfect, but it is extremely useful.
First, the “I before E” mnemonic in its entirety:
I before E,
Except after C,
And when sounded like A
As in neighbor and weigh.
Let’s see how far this rule will take us with common words.
I before E
Except after C
And when sounded like A,
as in neighbor and weigh
Note: The words their and heir can be learned with this list. For one thing, the learner can associate their with they, which is pronounced with long a. For another, their is one of those high-frequency words that anyone who reads and writes at all should be able to master by completion of second grade. Heir can be learned with the mnemonic device of a “spelling pronunciation” that addresses the silent h as well as the ei spelling.
Exceptions to the Rule
This list of 46 words is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a fair gauge of how far the old jingle can take you in spelling the ie/ei words you are most likely to want to write.