The struggle with spelling that many people have is real. The “i before e” rule is an example where we often run into problems. According to Merriam-Webster, “The “i before e except after c” rule is highly inconsistent in the English language and should not be considered a solid rule.” The influence of different spelling paradigms that included Old German, Norse, and French, has resulted in an orthography that is less than tidy. In roughly three-quarters of all words with either an “ie” or an “ei” pair, the proper spelling is “ie,” as the rule would have you believe. The problem is the “except after c” aspect. In fact, the opposite is true: “cie” words outnumber “cei” words by about three to one.
With all this being said, when teaching young learners, it is helpful to have guiding principles, no matter how contradictory the rules may be as they become more sophisticated spellers. Children can be quite understanding if you just explain. Reading is by far the best way to expose kids (and adults!) to these inconsistencies and become familiar with various spellings.
Here are eight – but not all – ways to spell the long /e/ sound in English.
1. In some cases, the long /e/ sound is spelled with just the letter e. Though usually more than one syllable long, exceptions include words like me, be we, he, and she. It is also used in the prefixes re-, be-, and de-.
2. Many words spell the long /e/ sound with the letters ee. The long /e/ sound can appear in the beginning, middle, or end of the word.
3. Using the letters ea is a common way of spelling the long /e/ sound.
4. Sometimes the long /e/ sound is spelled with an e in the middle of the word and an e at the end of the word in a silent e or magic e form. These words are normally, but not always, more than one syllable long.
5. In the case of ie words, the well-known ‘i before e except after c‘ spelling rule can apply to long /e/ sounds. Numerous exceptions to this rule include weird, either, leisure, and seize.
6. These are examples where the ‘i before e except after c‘ rule applies when spelling the long /e/ sound.
7. You’re probably familiar with these proper names that are spelled with the digraph ae and have a long /e/ pronunciation:
Here are some long /e/ words that have ae variant spellings:
8. And finally, here are two words using eo to represent an explicit long /e/ sound:
Whew! This covers the eight spelling variants in the sentence at the top of this post. I haven’t touched on long /e/ sounds that use y and i, such as happy or niche. We’ll save those for another Fun Facts About English.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in all the variant pronunciations of words spelled with -ough. Check out which letter in the dictionary has the most words or discover the most commonly used letter in the English language!
Vocabulary Charts are a perfect reference for you and your students. Tacked to a classroom board or in student notebooks, charts provide a reference students will return to again and again. Check out all the vocabulary-building charts in Donald’s English Classroom!