Vocabulary - Determining the Use of "ie" or "ei"

A lovely basket of food.

Vocabulary - Determining the Use of "ie" or "ei"

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In English we have words that contain “ie” and “ei” in them. However, without being familiar with a word, how can you determine if the word should be spelled with an “ie” or an “ei”? There is a simple rule you can remember for that and it is:

“I” before “e” except after “c.”

What does that mean? It means that in any word where the letter that precedes (comes before) the “ie” or “ei” combination is anything other than the letter “c,” the order will be spelled using the “ie” combination.

However, if the letter that precedes the combination is the letter “c” then you go with “ei.” For example: “He received his report card at the end of the day.” As the word “received” has the letter “c” before the “ie” or “ei” combination, then “ei” is to be used.

Now let’s look at the following sentence: “I believe he got all A’s on his report card.” In the word “believe,” the letter that comes before the “ie” or “ei” combination is the letter “l.” This tells us that the “ie” combination is to be used.

This seems easy enough - right? Well, there are exceptions to the rule that can make knowing when to use “ie” or “ei” more difficult. So another rule also applies:

When the sound of an “ie” or “ei” word has a long “e” sound, it will be spelled using “ie” but when it has a sound other than a long “e” sound it will be “ei.”

For example, let’s look at the word “weight.” It has an “ei” but the preceding letter is not a “c.” However, the “ei” in this word does NOT have a long “e” sound so we know we won’t be using “ie” here. Therefore, we use “ei” which has an “a” sound.

Confused? Well, we also have words that are the exception to both of these rules. These words are words that will simply have to be remembered without following a rule. An example would be the word “leisure.” The “ei” has a long “e” sound making it an “exception to the rules” word.

For each sentence that follows, choose the correct combination of “ie” or “ei” that should be used. Also pay close attention to the context of the sentence to pick the correct word that will fit.
1.
Have you ever seen the movie “____ of Dreams”?
Filled
Felled
Field
Feild
Answers (a) and (b) are both past tense verbs of “to fill” and “to fall” but they are not the words that fit in here. Answer (d) does not follow the rule for when a word has a long “e” sound. As the word we are looking for has a long “e” sound, we know that “ie” is the combination we are looking for. Answer (c) is the correct answer and shows the correct usage of an “ie” word.
2.
One day when I grow up I want to go to a _______ country.
different
foreign
foran
foriegn
Answer (a) does not contain an “ie” or “ei” combination so it is not the answer we are looking for here. Answer (c) is not a correctly spelled word. Answer (d) does not follow the rule for “ie”. When you have “ie” you have a long “e” sound. This word does not have a long “e” sound so Answer (d) is not correct. Answer (b) demonstrates the correct usage of the “ei” combination for a word that has a sound other than the long “e.” The correct answer is Answer (b).
3.
My mother brought the new ________ a basket of food to welcome them.
neybors
nieghbors
neighbors
naighbors
The word we are looking for has either an “ie” or an “ei” combination. This word has an “a” sound and that tells us we are looking for the “ei” combination. Answers (a) and (d) are poorly misspelled words and Answer (b) does not follow the rule for sounds. The correct answer is Answer (c) as “neighbor” has an “a” sound and shows the combination of “ei” that follows the rule.
4.
“Make sure you get a ______ from the doctor,” he called out.
reseat
receipt
reciept
recete
Answer (a) is a correctly spelled word but is not an “ie” or “ei” word so it is not the answer we need here. Answer (d) is an incorrectly spelled word and, again, not the correct answer. Answer (c) does not follow the rule of “i” before “e” except after “c.” This word contains the letter “c” before an “ie” or “ei” combination. Following the rule, we know we need to have “ei” used here. Answer (b) is the correct answer and the correct usage of the “ei” rule.
5.
In our history class we are learning about _______ Rome.
ancient
anceint
anchant
einchent
Answers (c) and (d) are both incorrect spellings of the word we are looking for so neither of them is correct. Answer (b) follows the “ei” rule for a sound other than long “e” but this word, too, is spelled incorrectly. Answer (a) “ancient” is the correct word and usage of an “ie” word. It is also one of those words that do not follow either rule on “ie” or “ei” usage so it is a word that has to simply be remembered.
6.
She ______ every opportunity that she could to get the job.
briefed
breifed
seized
siezed
Answer (a), although spelled correctly, does not fit into the context of this sentence so it is not correct. Answer (b) does not follow the rule when the sound is a long “e”. This word has a long “e” sound so that tells us we would use the combination “ie.” Now let’s look at Answer (d). We do have a long “e” sound but this word is spelled incorrectly. Answer (c) is, therefore, the correct answer and it is one of those words that do not follow the rules but must be remembered.
7.
Can you please pass me a ______ of bread?
pie
slice
piece
peice
Answer (a), although spelled correctly, does not fit into the context of this sentence so it is not correct. Answer (b) would fit in but it is not an “ie” or “ei” word so it is not what we are looking for here. Answer (d) does not follow the rule when the sound is a long “e”. This word has a long “e” sound so that tells us we would use the combination “ie.” Now let’s look at Answer (c). We do have a long “e” sound for this word so it follows that we would use “ie”. Answer (c) “piece” is the correct answer.
8.
He was called a _____ for stealing the necklace.
theif
thief
theefe
thiefe
Both Answers (c) and (d) are incorrectly spelled words making them both incorrect answers. As this word has a long “e” sound, the rule tells us we need to have an “ie” combination. This tells us that answer (b) “thief” is the correct answer and shows the correct usage of the “ie” combination.
9.
We went on a ______ ride in Central Park.
sleigh
slay
sliegh
slaye
Answer (b) does not contain an “ie” or “ei” word so this is not the correct answer. The word “slay” also means to “kill.” Answer (d) is an incorrectly spelled word and not the right answer. Answer (c) does not follow the rule that when the combination has a sound other than a long “e” then “ei” should be used. As this word as an “a” sound, “ei” needs to be used making Answer (a) the correct word showing the correct usage of “ei.”
10.
We have been ______ for over twenty years.
frenze
frends
freinds
friends
Answers (a) and (b) are both incorrect spellings of the word we are looking for so neither of them is correct. Answer (c) follows the “ei” rule for a sound other than a long “e” but this word, too, is spelled incorrectly. Answer (d) “friends” is the correct word and usage of an “ie” word.
Author:  Christine G. Broome

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