As I have been writing Uncovering the Logic of English, I have been researching every phonogram and every spelling rule. The next few posts will explore this popular rule more and demonstrate why I believe it should not be taught.
Many people know the rule "Use I before E except after C, when it says long A, and in some exceptions."
Those of you who have taken a class with me know I always teach this rule last and demonstrate how knowing the phonograms IE and EI and their sounds is a much better way to memorize which spelling is used. I have always felt that the long list of exceptions to this rule prevents it from being a useful spelling tool.
As I have researched this rule I have discovered several problems with the phonogram sounds. Today we will look more closely at the phonogram IE. In common lists of the 70 phonograms, students are taught that IE has three sounds: long E, long I, and short I.
The problem with this is twofold: the long I and the short I sounds are not accurate in describing the commonly used English words.
Let's first consider short I. There are only two words that I have been able to identify that use the short /i/ sound: mischief and kerchief. However, notice that in both of these words the accent is on the first syllable. The base word for both is chief where clearly the phonogram is saying long /e/. When the additional syllable is added, the accent moves to the first syllable leaving an unaccented E. Long /e/'s commonly degrade to the short /i/ sound in unaccented syllables. This is a perfect place to "say-to-spell" for spelling purposes. It would be best to exaggerate the long /e/ sound in both mischief and kerchief, drawing attention to their roots, rather than create a new phonogram sound.
Now let's turn to the Long /i/ sound. There are seven commonly known base words that use IE: lie, tie, die, pie, vie, fie, hie. These are best classified as Silent Final E words. Each of them behaves as a word that drops the E when adding a vowel suffix.
For example, when adding the suffix -ing, the Silent Final E is dropped. (The I changes to Y in lying, dying and trying because English words cannot have two I's next to one another.) To form the past tense ending, the suffix -ed is added and the Silent Final E is dropped. For example: lied, tied, died, etc.
Some people may argue that the phonogram IE is formed when a suffix beginning with E is added to words ending in a single vowel Y. (Single Vowel Y changes to I when adding any ending, unless the ending begins with I.) For example: implied, tried, multiplied, etc. I think it is best to teach students to consider the base word in each of these examples. Rather than thinking of IE as a phonogram, I like to demonstrate where each of the letters originate by thinking of the base word and the suffix. I believe this is a much stronger path for memory and retention of correct spellings.
With these considerations, the phonogram IE is best learned as having only one sound: Long /e/.
Next time we will consider the sounds for EI.