Decoding exercises: "ie"

From Teflpedia

pie /paɪ/

niece /niːs/

I before E except after C

This rule of thumb is not always true. This article explores the "ie" part. For the "cei" part see Decoding exercises: "ei".

Together with the article on decoding difficulties, this page sets out some common words teachers can use to help their students become more aware of how they can sound out more correctly the different sounds corresponding to words containing "ie".

Depending on their mother tongue (L1), students may have difficulty distinguishing between some of these sounds. More often than not, these supposed difficulties depend more on the interference of L1 than on the actual difficulties posed by English, and many, if not most students will greatly improve their pronunciation by simply becoming aware of certain differences - together with a minimum of practice.

In this case, it might be interesting to point out the difference between the past participles in ""carried" vs tried, etc. The same situation happens with plurals such as "carries" and "tries".


The rule of thumb "I before E except after C" is intended to be used only when the vowel sound is /iː/.

  • as /iː/: achieve - belief - believe - brief - chief - field - grief - hygiene - Marie - niece - piece - rabies - relief - relieve - series - Sheffield - shield - skied - thief - Wakefield - yield

Exception to the rule: species

Stressed /ɪ/

  • as /ɪ/: sieve (possibly the only stressed case)

/ɪ/ or /ə/

  • mischievous /ˈmɪstʃɪvəs/ or /ˈmɪstʃəvəs/

Unstressed /iː/ or /ɪ/

See also Pronunciation exercises: /ɪ/ vs /iː/#Unstressed syllable

  • At the end of the word: auntie - hippie - movie - Stephanie
  • Derived forms of -y verbs
  • -ies third person and -ied past tense: carries - carried; hurries - hurried; marries - married; studies - studied; tidies - tidied; worries - worried;
  • -ies plural of -y nouns: apologies - babies - berries - cities - companies - countries - families - ferries - hoodies - ladies - parties - rubies - stories;

Note that there are very few minimal pairs that contrast /ɪ/ and /iː/ in unstressed position.


  • as /ɪə/: fierce - pierce - piercing - tier


  • ie: die - lie - pie - tie
  • -ies third person and -ied past tense of -y verbs: applies - applied; cries - cried; denies - denied; dries - dried; flies - flied; fries - fried; identifies - identified; implies - implied; justifies - justified; modifies - modified; multiplies - multiplied; occupies - occupied; qualifies - qualified; relies - relied; satisfies - satisfied; specifies - specified; relied; spies - spies; supplies - supplied; tries - tried; verifies - verified
  • -ies plural of -y nouns: allies - cries - flies - fries - skies - spies


  • ancient - efficient - patient - soldier - sufficient


  • Daniel /ˈdænjəl/
  • friend /frend/
  • Vietnam has at least four alternatives: "Viet" as /vjet/ or /viːet/ and "nam" as /ˈnæm/ or /ˈnɑːm/. Wikipedia gives also /viːətˈnɑːm/.
  • "iew" as /juː/: interview, review, view

"ie" in two separate syllables


  • anxiety, client, diet, quiet, science, society, variety
  • drier, flier, supplier
  • comparatives: drier


  • superlatives: driest

/ɪ.ə/ or /iː.ə/

The period indicates separate syllables, and here it is used to distinguish /ɪ/+/ə/ and phoneme /ɪə/).

  • alien, audience, barrier, convenience, convenient, experience, leniency, nutrient
  • Derived forms of -y adjectives
  • comparatives: busier - earlier - easier - funnier - happier - prettier - sunnier - uglier


  • /iːə/: skier
  • /iːe/: orient
  • Derived forms of -y adjectives
  • superlatives: /ɪɪ/ or /iːɪ/ busiest - earliest - easiest - funniest - happiest - prettiest - sunniest - ugliest


See also