There’s a little poem that helps you remember how to spell certain words with the dipthongs “ie” or “ei.”
What is a dipthong, you ask? Well, it’s a complex sound made with two or more vowel sounds in the same syllable.
boy = bo-ee
cow = cah-ooh
yield = yee-ild
freight = fray-eet
Here’s the little poem as I learned it back in the Cretaceous:
“I before E, except after C
Or when it sounds like A as in neighbor or weigh.”
So if the dipthong sounds like “ee,” it is usually spelled with “ie”, or I before E.
shield, wield, believe, fierce
Here are some examples of the “except after c” case, where I does not come before E, even though it makes the same “ee” sound:
And here are examples of the other exception, when it makes the long A sound:
vein, skein, reins
Here are some other exceptions that are not covered by the popular rhyme:
ie after c: ancient, species, science, sufficient
ei with no c: either/neither, height, foreign, leisure, seize, their, weird
So what inspired me to cover this rule today? Well, I was driving to work and got stuck at a train crossing. A freight train (an exception like neighbor and weigh). And I got to reminiscing again, this time about when I got to ride in the engine of a freight train with my dad and little brother and sister. My dad’s golf buddy, Fran Schillinger, was a train engineer, and he often drove his trains past the golf course across the street from our house. Well, my daddy asked him if we could have a ride, and so my mom drove us to the next town, Avon, and we hopped
aboard the engine and went back and forth to hitch up many cars, then when it started to get dark, we rode in the train to the golf course, where Mr. Schillinger dropped us off.
But the cool thing was this: along the way, there were white posts with a luminous W on them, and whenever the conductor sees one, he has to blow the train whistle – and he let us kids blow the train whistle! How many of you can brag that you blew a real train whistle? It was the top story in Show and Tell the next day at school, I assure you!