I before E except after C

From Teflpedia
IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/
I before E except after C

This rule of thumb is not always true. However if we interpret it correctly it can be useful.

If the pronunciation of a vowel is stressed /iː/ and you are not sure if you should spell "ie" or "ei" then go for "ie" except in /siː/ which is "cei".

A shorter form is

I before E except after C if the vowel-sound rhymes with bee.[1]


You are not sure if it's "chief" or "cheif". The rule helps you to spell "chief".

You are not sure if /siːlɪŋ/ is "seiling", "sieling", "ceiling", or "cieling". The rule tells you it's "ceiling".

You are not sure if /ˈsiːʒər/ is "seizure", "siezure", "ceizure" or "ciezure". The rule misleads you into thinking it's *"ceizure", or maybe *"siezure".

You don't know how to spell /ˈfriːkwənt/. The rule tells you it is not "freiquent" and it might be "friequent". However, the actual spelling is "frequent".

Common words[edit]

  • achieve, belief, believe, brief, chief, field, grief, niece, piece, relief, shield, skied, thief, yield
  • After C: ceiling, conceive, deceit, deceive, perceive, receipt, receive

Unstressed /iː/[edit]

The rule doesn't hold

  • caffeine, protein, species

Unstressed /iː/ or /ɪ/[edit]

The rule doesn't hold

  • Plurals: agencies, currencies, democracies, fancies, frequencies, policies
  • Verbal forms: fancied, fancies

The rule holds (even if it doesn't apply)

  • Plurals: babies, cities, companies, countries, families, stories, parties
  • Verbal forms: carries, copies, marries, studies, worries


  • either - leisureAmE - neither - seizure


See also[edit]