spelling rules

According to the Government's Basic Skills Agency spelling rules should have a health warning because they can be complicated to explain and there are many exceptions.

Most good spellers have good visual memories about the way words feel, behave and look. They have a good knowledge of word conventions and letter patterns and also apply other spelling strategies like memory tricks and syllable breakdown (see Spelling Strategies).
Most of the time they don't realise they're following a spelling rules - but they know when a spelling is wrong.

Remember spelling is learnt by writing not quoting spelling rules or saying letters out loud.

One rule we learn at school is the memory trick, "i before e except after c."

i before e - believe field, believe, niece, piece
except after c so ei - receive, receipt, ceiling,

Do we always use ei after c? Unfortunately, no.
Look at these words with ie or ei after the c. Read them aloud.

ancient, efficient, science, society, seize, receipt, receive, deceive, ceiling.

Do you notice that the -cei- words have different sounds?

These words have a "sh" sound: ancient, efficient

And these have a "s" sound: science, society, seize

receipt, receive, deceive, ceiling have a long vowel "ee" sound

So we need to change the spelling rule to - "i before e except after c if it has a long "ee" sound" or "i before e so long as the word rhymes with bee."

Rules!!! Hard to explain and always exceptions!!!

Now try the i before e spelling test

sound spelling test iconClick here to do the spelling test. Scroll down this page for the answers.

Spelling Rules Workbook
a step-by-step guide to the rules of English spelling
(suitable for British and American users)

American and British spelling


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1. A piece of paper.

2. I believe you.

3. The number eight

4. It's a relief the work has finished.

5. I received your parcel today.

6. How much do you weigh?

7. I'll be brief.

8. Never forget that we live in a multicultural society

9. What's the height of this wardrobe?

10. My neighbours are friendly.

11. This freezer is very efficient.

12. Would you like your receipt?