The rule is that written ei is pronounced [i:] only after the letter c — or that what is pronounced [i:] is written ei after the letter c only.

Here are exceptions I’ve found so far:

  • foreign (possibly)
  • seizure
  • either (possibly)
  • neither (possibly)
  • weird
  • being
  • seizure

Can you add more exceptions to this list?


I am not so much interested in differences of pronunciation between dialects of English as I am in helpful (for me) mnemonics for written English.

Update 2:

Once more, this question is not on orthography but on mnemonics to help in writing.

If you know other helpful mnemonics to deal with spelling words with ‑ie‑ and ‑ei‑, you are welcome to answer this question.

  • 2
    "ei" is not pronounced [i:] in foreign. I'm not sure if you're asking for exceptions to the "I before E, except after C" rule, but if you are, here's a link that may help: alt-usage-english.org/I_before_E.html – Tragicomic Feb 7 '11 at 9:29
  • 1
    Seizure seizure? And I don't think "weird" and "being" fit? – Thomas Padron-McCarthy Feb 7 '11 at 9:57
  • 1
    It would be better to make clear to which English dialect you are referring; the pronunciation of foreign in American English is different from the pronunciation in British English. – kiamlaluno Feb 7 '11 at 10:10
  • 1
    And "either" can have either [i:] or [aI] – neil Feb 7 '11 at 10:19
  • 1
    I've never heard of that rule - only "I before E except after C", which has so many exceptions it's almost useless. – gpr Feb 7 '11 at 10:47

As user4729 mentioned, caffeine and codeine. Another common word in that vaguely chemical vein would be protein.

I would also add keister, leisure, and obeisance.

Words that are less clear to me (because the overabundance of vowels makes it ambiguous to me whether the "-ei-" should be treated as a unit), are onomatopoeia and plebeian. (I am leaning toward these being not good examples; but surely they are better than being, which is on the asker's list as I write this.)

| improve this answer | |
  • It's kind of entertaining that you used the word vein in there. – Jon Purdy Feb 8 '11 at 6:41
  • It seems to me that "keister", "leisure" and "obeisance" are not pronounced as [i:]? – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 8 '11 at 13:23
  • @Jon Purdy: I realized I put that in my answer, but I didn't use it as an example because it doesn't satisfy the pronunciation requirement. – John Y Feb 9 '11 at 5:03
  • @vgv8: It depends... all three words can be pronounced correctly with [i:]. In the UK, though, "leisure" rhymes with "pleasure", the "ei" in "obeisance" is the vowel in "play", and we don't use the word "keister" at all :-) – psmears Feb 19 '11 at 21:13

The rules of English orthography:

  1. The first rule of English orthography is, you do not talk about rules in English orthography.
  2. The second rule of English orthography is, you DO NOT talk about rules English orthography.
  3. Two letters can be used for one sound.
  4. Sometimes three (or more).
  5. No real phonetics, no logic.
  6. Words will go on as long as they have to.
  7. If this is your first encounter with English orthography, you have to fight.

(Loosely based on the rules of Fight Club)

  • English has so many exceptions to its many rules, that they're almost useless. Further complications arise from differences in the several dialects making most rules specific for one dialect. English never had or has a language council to tidy up the mess. – Stein G. Strindhaug Feb 7 '11 at 12:36

"Caffeine," "codeine," and many similar chemical names are exceptions also.

If you want a list of these, go to a crossword puzzle site like oneacross.com, and put in "???eine" for the pattern, with no clue, and you will get a list of words with the number of letters specified.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.