Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Saturday, 20 June 2009 10:42 UK

Schools to rethink 'i before e'

Words
Some obey and some disobey (pic: wordle.net)

The spelling mantra "i before e except after c" is no longer worth teaching, according to the government.

Advice sent to teachers says there are too few words which follow the rule and recommends using more modern methods to teach spelling to schoolchildren.

The document, entitled Support for Spelling, is being distributed to more than 13,000 primary schools.

But some people believe the phrase should be retained because it is easy to remember and is broadly accurate.

Bethan Marshall, a senior English lecturer at King's College London, said: "It's a very easy rule to remember and one of the very few spelling rules that I can remember and that's why I would stick to it.

RHYME IN FULL
I before E except after C when the sound is EE
and sometimes followed by:
or when the sound is A as in neighbour and weigh

"If you change it and say we won't have this rule, we won't have any rules at all, then spelling, which is already terribly confusing, becomes more so."

Judy Parkinson, author of the best-selling book I Before E (Except After C), told the Daily Telegraph it was a phrase that struck a chord.

"There are words that it doesn't fit, but I think teachers could always get a discussion going about the 'i before e' rule and the peculiarities of the English language, and have fun with it. That's the best way to learn."

The guidance is being issued as part of the National Primary Strategy for under-11s.

Spelling bee
Spelling bees are very popular

It says: "The i before e rule is not worth teaching. It applies only to words in which the ie or ei stands for a clear ee sound. Unless this is known, words such as sufficient and veil look like exceptions.

"There are so few words where the ei spelling for the ee sounds follows the letter c that it is easier to learn the specific words." These include receive, ceiling, perceive and deceit.

The document recommends other ways to teach pupils spelling, like studying television listings for compound words, changing the tense of a poem to practise irregular verbs and learning about homophones through jokes such as "How many socks in a pair? None — because you eat a pear."

Some education experts have supported the government and questioned the effectiveness of the rule.

Jack Bovill, chairman of the Spelling Society, said words such as vein and neighbour made it a meaningless phrase.

"There are so many exceptions that it's not really a rule," he said.

He added that it would be helpful if spelling were allowed to evolve.


Here is a selection of your comments.

Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving
Christine, Belfast

'George Eliot's old grandmother rode a pig home yesterday' was how we were taught to remember the spelling of geography. It conjures up an amusing mental picture that children are unlikely to forget.
Eva Hayes, Canvey Island, England

My favourite in school was: If you "fri" your Friend he'll come to an "end".
Raj, Stockport

I use "practISe" (is = verb) and "practICE" (ice = noun). In a slightly abstract way, this works for "license" (verb) and "licence" (noun) as well - i.e. You cross-reference the practise/practice trick to remember which one uses the S or the C!
Dan, Manchester

StationERY is sold by a StationER. And there is a LIE in the middle of beLIEve - and beLIEf. (Makes you wonder, that one..) And a SECRETARY has a SECRET.
Margaret, London

Two cots need two mattresses in any accommodation.
Dan Russell, Hove

The one that did the rounds at my primary school, probably because it was a bit disgusting, was 'Do in a rush. Run home, or expect accident'. Diarrhoea.
Dan Meyers, Lancaster, UK

I had two that I liked when I was a kid:

A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream (Arithmetic)

And there's "a rat" in "separate"
Beth, Virginia, USA

Old Elephants Usually manOEUvre poorly.
Danny, Aberdeenshire Scotland

'They shouted Hey'. That one was taught to me at age 5 or 6 when I kept writing 'thay'(which was how it sounded to me). It worked. Later I taught myself 'PersonAL? A Little.' and 'Good PersoNNEL Never Need Evil Leaders.'
Mallory, Amersham, Bucks

We had fun learning the exceptions to I before E, which we remembered with the sentence "Sheila, the counterfeiter, was seized by a weird thought at the weir".
Richard Bird, Chippenham, England

Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants

Because it's very useful...
Hywel, London

There are similar rhymes for rules in German. The one I like is: "Ein geht nichts allein." (One goes never alone.) which means that you never write "ein" (instead of eins, for "one") unless it is followed a noun.
Peter, Ipswich

I always had awful trouble spelling 'friend', until my teacher pointed out that 'friend ends in end'!
Andy Parsons, Sheffield, UK

StationERy is for things like papER.

StationARy is for something that isn't moving, like a pARked cAR.
Dawn, County Durham

NECESSARY = Never Eat Cress Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Youthful!
Samantha, Leuchars, Fife

I was taught "You take the bus to business"
David , Ashton U Lyne

Necessary - a vicar has one collar and two socks.
Kerys Whitley, Flintshire, North Wales

There's a 'para'chute in se'para'te
H. Broadbent, Bishop's Stortford

I before Am, except after Bovvered?
Fred, Dundee

For some reason I was taught how to spell MISSISSIPPI ( M I crooked letter, crooked letter I, crooked letter, crooked letter I, humpback, humpback I ). I think this is probably only the second time I've used it!
Anne, Walsall

'e' for 'e'nvelope is in stationery, which leaves stationary for vehicles and such like. That was told to me by my English teacher in about 1970 and it's stuck ever since.
Stephen Watson, Brighton, UK



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