Thursday, October 18, 2012

I before E except after C?

A friend recently posted on his Facebook page the comment, "I before E except after C? Weird!" Another person, perhaps not realising that the comment was ironic, added the next bit, "unless it sounds A as in neighbour or weigh".

This got me wondering about the validity of this 'rule', so I did a little checking. Some time ago I had downloaded the SOWPODS word list and created a database from it, so time to do a few searches.

The results were illuminating:
  • 475 words containing 'ei'.
  • Only 49 of those words contained 'cei'.
  • Of the remaining 376 words, 109 have the long 'a' sound.
This leaves 267 words that contain 'ei' but where it does not follow a 'c' or sound like a long 'a'. We could rule out another 57 words that contain 'ei' because they begin with the prefix 're-' or 'de-', e.g. 'reinforce', and another 32 words that end with 'ing' or '-ism' or '-ist' or '-ise/ize', e.g. 'theism'. This still leaves 180 words that definitely do not follow the rule, compared to only 158 that do.

Esperanto, anyone?