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I before E except after C

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1006829.  Mon Jun 24, 2013 9:02 pm Reply with quote

My apologies if this topic has been raised before now, but this is my first time on the forums here. Essentially I need help/proof of what Stephen Fry said on an episode of QI about the 'i before e except after c' rule being incorrect in the majority of cases.

Basically I am in the middle of a debate with an acquaintance in the US (I am British), over the 'i before e except after c' rule. I quoted the fact this was inaccurate based on the QI episode and the information on the subject Stephen Fry provided. She just won't accept this and makes points about plurals not counting as good examples and makes statements like:

"It's a helpful rule in my eyes, and he is trying to prove a point that the evidence just doesn't support.".

"But aren't most of those "cie" words 2 syllables? I don't even consider them when thinking about the rule. The rule has always helped me, because I think it covers a majority of certain types of words. "

"With the rule applied correctly with the known exceptions (certain syllable combinations), teaching children the rule is helpful more often than not, as they will be correct about 90% of the time. Interesting."

"Well, I think the full rule does apply much of the time, and it's a great way for school kids learning to spell to remember how to spell the majority of common words."

I am keen to prove her wrong, but cannot find any online source that confirms what was said on the show as being fact. Is there a link or any source anyone can provide me with that clearly proves the 'i before e except after c' rule is generally incorrect, and shows where and how the words were actually counted please? I assume the researchers had a good and reliable source of this information when the show was made, but as I do not have access to the source any help would be appreciated (I should add that this debate is going on in a public forum so it would give the show more credibility if I could provide an irrefutable link to the source of the statistics).

Many thanks to anyone who can help on this matter.

1006831.  Mon Jun 24, 2013 10:04 pm Reply with quote

Have a look here: post 768569

1006832.  Mon Jun 24, 2013 10:06 pm Reply with quote

That's a post that is actually linked to from Wikipedia in their entry for I before E except after C, I wonder if there are other posts in the forum which are specifically linked to in Wikipedia? :)

1006924.  Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:19 am Reply with quote

I am sure we had a thread about this, and suze was a leading commenter on it (as we might expect!) but I can't remember which forum it was on. Quite Interestrings maybe? But it was three or four years ago I think. I had a quick search for it, but the terms are too vague for our search engine, which doesn't seem to respond to quotation marks for a precise phrase.

1006925.  Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:23 am Reply with quote

I found this thread, but it's not the one I was thinking of, and begins weirdly, as if it had been trimmed.

Suze - do you remember this?

1006976.  Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:49 am Reply with quote

Yes I do. I know that a post which I wrote in that thread included the word phenolphthalein. The search only shows me as having used that particular word once on these forums, and that was in the thread to which CB linked four up (yes, the one which gives me a citation on Wikipedia).

That thread begins at post 767810 and returns to this topic on a number of occasions over several pages. As well as the one to which Jenny links above, there's another fairly similar discussion from post 864170.

So the thread that Jenny and I are thinking of mustn't be here any more.

When the i before e thing was discussed in the research forums (the private area where the Elves discuss material which might form questions in future shows) in January 2010, I mentioned that Scrabble-based word search, and it looks as if I referred to the thread that we can't find. But I didn't link to it, so it was probably already gone by then.

1092144.  Sun Aug 31, 2014 12:20 pm Reply with quote

OK, there's a lot of talk about whether it's one way or the other. I couldn't get to the definitive answer I wanted, so I counted all the words and put the answers in the file below. (You need to download the Excel file, there are too many rows for google sheets)

The numbers:
Words in the list I used = 109,582
Words with IE in there somewhere = 6,317
Words with I before E after C = 322
Words with E before I after C = 88

So for me, I before E doesn't stand up and QI have got it right. Who was really in doubt???

Here's the research:

File with counts:

I got the word list here:


1092246.  Mon Sep 01, 2014 10:04 am Reply with quote

Welcome Dave - but does your list take into account the other part of the rhyme?

I before E
except after C
when the sound is EE

1092309.  Mon Sep 01, 2014 5:36 pm Reply with quote

In the words of Lee Mack, "Ceiling"

1092342.  Mon Sep 01, 2014 9:08 pm Reply with quote

Fits the rule tets - the e is before the i after c and the sound is ee.

1092343.  Mon Sep 01, 2014 9:23 pm Reply with quote

davebarnes wrote:
The numbers:
Words in the list I used = 109,582
Words with IE in there somewhere = 6,317
Words with I before E after C = 322
Words with E before I after C = 88

So for me, I before E doesn't stand up and QI have got it right. Who was really in doubt???
. science not conscience
. client
. efficiencies, insufficiencies - hit and miss

got bored checking the list above - but most conformed to the rule.

So not sure I understand the conclusion.

1092400.  Tue Sep 02, 2014 8:39 am Reply with quote

See also post 768569 - there are considerably more words which have <cie> than which have <cei>.

Of those which do have <cei>, only six are in everyday use. Notably ceiling.

The so-called rule becomes a bit more useful if we add, as Jenny likes to add, the caveat "When the sound is ee". But when we've discussed this before, few remembered it being taught that way.


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