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I Before E Except After C

It amazes me that after years of spelling and writing I still use many of the mnemonic devices taught to me years ago. I still remember that the principal is my “pal” and “i before e except after c” and I still use them regularly. Of course those devices don’t help me at all with lay and lie or then and than, but they are a start.

What about you, what sort of mnemonic devices do you find yourself using nearly every time you sit down at the computer?


Category: Blog


  1. On Old Olympus Towering Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops.

    I use this 2-3 times a night at work in the ICU. It’s the only way I can keep the cranial nerves straight.

    (Olfactory Optic Occulomotor Trochlear Trigeminal Abducent Facial Vestibulocochlear Glossopharyngeal Vagus Accessory Hypoglossal)

    There’s another for their functional type, too.

  2. There is “a rat” in separate. I use the principal one, too.

    And now that my daughter is taking piano lessons, I had to whip out the Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE. Haven’t used *those* in a while.

  3. In my experience, it’s “I before E except after Every Letter of The Alphabet With One Or Two Exceptions” which is why I discarded that one pretty early on! 😉

    Wendy Sullivan

  4. Wendy, I knew exactly where you were going when I read “Every Good” Old piano lessons don’t let loose.

    Then and than I just have to read aloud for the one that sounds right.

    Someone once told me that people lay down while chickens lie eggs. Or something like that–and I’m not banking that I have it right!

  5. I before E is a huge one for me. And righty tighty lefty loosey! Hah! And sometimes when my brain dies on me and for some reason I can’t immediately think of which hand is left and right, my mind goes back to my 5th grade cheerleading chant. Strangely, the choreography of it is what reminds me. And then there’s the left hand making the “L” and all. That’s all I can think of.

  6. It’s not the computer so much, Jessica, as the way I still use my knuckles to figure out which months have 30 or 31 days.

    (If someone reading this hs no idea what I’m talking about, ha…I can only imagine how completely foolish this sounds.)


  7. I think the “I before E” extended director’s cut is the only one I use regularly. That and “ABFONY Conjunctions” – And But For Or Not Yet – when determining when to use a comma. And the rule of 3s and 5s – when attempting to make a point, always cite either three or five examples.

  8. I don’t use my knuckles for the months, but I do use “30 days hath September, April, June, and November…”

    Heh. Word verification is “remind.” How appropriate.

  9. The memory of my freshman writing professor looking at me with pure disgust when she realized I didn’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s” serves the purpose as well as any mnemonic device.

    She also refused to read my essay on Mary Wollstonecraft because I’d misspelled Ms. Wollstonecraft’s name in the essay’s title. According to Ms. Bohrer’s imperious red scrawl at the top of the page, “If you can’t spell the subject’s name, I can’t read your paper.”

    I cried, I think (I was 17, and until that point had never really been criticized by a teacher), but I couldn’t argue with her faultless logic.

    I actually wonder where I’d be without Ms. Bohrer, for her assertion that details matter is one of the defining characteristics of my writing.

  10. I,CCI
    I D

    (It’s the way to punctuate clauses. I,CCI = independent clause + comma + coordinating conjunction + independent clause; D,I = dependent clause + comma + independent clause; I D = independent clause + no comma + dependent clause)

    Learned this in 10th grade and still use it.

  11. I use the “pal” device for remembering the correct spellings.

    To remember what months have 30 days, I do the “Every day past September, April, June and November.”

    I’m currently learning how to play the violin and how to read music, and I remember the little pharase “Every Good Boy Does Fine” to remember the notes on the lines and then “FACE” for the ones in the spaces.

  12. Oh! the months on the knuckles reminds me…my sister taught me how to do your 9 multiplications on your fingers. I was NEVER good at math and I used this all the time. I still use it today when my brain stalls out on me.

  13. In college we used to have spelling tests in my beginning journalism class. I always thought I was a good speller until I got to that class.

    Cemetery has only e’s in it because that’s the sound you’d make if you saw ghosts there: eeee!. Accommodate has two c’s and two m’s because the word has to “accommodate” all those letters. I could go on and on, but I won’t! We used the “pal” in principal, too.

    For some reason, in middle school, to remember its and it’s, I told myself that a contraction is a contraction is a contraction and will always use the apostrophe. Not a great mneumonic device (and maybe not always true), but it worked for me.

  14. Actually, the months rhyme is:

    “30 days hath September, April, June and November.”

    I use that one every now and then.

    I’m a stickler for when to use “its” or “it’s” but do have to mentally think sometimes…am I saying “it is”?

    The lay-lie mnemonic never made sense to me because of the way both verbs conjugate:

    LIE – lie, lay, will lie, am lying, have lain
    LAY – lay, laid, will lay, am laying, have laid

    Notice they BOTH have the conjugation of “lay” just depending on tense…so you could use the word ‘lay’ for the verb lie thus making the chicken thing very unhelpful for me. In some cases you do use the word ‘lay’ when meaning ‘to lie.’ UGH!

  15. Whenever I’m using it’s or its…I substitute “It is” to make sure it’s right.

    Boys lie and chickens lay eggs.

    The left hand makes and L with the pointer and thumb, and I write with my right.

  16. I can’t remember which comic strip it was where, when faced with the “I Before E Except After C” rule, the character’s response was “Weird.” =)

    Mnemonic devices I remember from my school days are Roy G. Biv (order of the colors in a spectrum/rainbow) and the “Wow, Oh, Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me Right Now, Sweetheart” for stellar classification. I do sometimes use my knuckles to figure out the number of days in a certain month.

  17. None; I had dyslexia in school, and probably some other learning disability. What I have, I gained as an adult, and without tricks. I still don’t know my right from my left without the aid of my wedding ring. There you go, my wedding ring. LOL. Jessica, were you looking for a non-controversial topic today?

  18. I do the knuckles-months thing.

    For its and it’s, my 10th grade teacher taught me something so corny, but I still teach it to my seniors because it can help:

    A dog knows its master.
    A dog knows it’s master.
    But in which case does the dog have the upper paw?


  19. I’m thinking the folks at our local Zaxby’s need a good grammar lesson. Their billboard sign — in huge letters for the world to see– says, “YOUR ALMOST THERE”. Urgh!

    I use my knuckles for the months, too. And “lefty loosy, righty tighty”.

    Had to smile when I read about the professor. The story reminded me of my dreaded/beloved English teacher. She wrote a Bible verse on one of my papers (in regards to my handwriting) and I’ve never forgotten it.

    “Let every thing be done decently and in order.”

  20. …… ,,,,,,, ?????? “”””””” ”””’ ::::::: ;;;;;;;
    AAAaaaa BBBbbb CCCccc DDDddd EEEeee FFFfff GGGggg HHHhhh IIIiii JJJjjj KKKkkk LLLlll MMMmmm NNNnnn OOOooo PPPppp QQQqqq RRRrrr SSSsss TTTttt UUUuuu VVVvvv WWWwww XXXxxx YYYyyy ZZZzzz

    Use as you want!

    Haste yee back 😉

  21. I don’t know about devices for writing, but when it comes to directions, I’m constantly thinking “Never Eat Soggy Wheaties for Breakfast”

    For writing, I’m always running through the to-be verbs in my head, but there’s no devices to remember those, is there?

  22. Love these. I was a teacher in a former life and now am the “Go To Girl” at work (car dealership) when there are spelling questions. I spouted off the “I before E…except weird, which is just a weird word” to the young woman who is ‘generation text’. She looked at me like I had just exited a space capsule. Funny.

    One of my favorites is “Neither, nor; either, or”. Ah, the memories…


  23. I must admit, I grew up with School House Rock and still refer to it today. I even find myself singing it around the house when my kids have questions about homework.

    Who can resist the funky sounds of conjunction junction what’s your function? Oh man, feeling the urge to dance. Have a great day!

  24. I sometimes use the “I before E”, but rarely any others. If they don’t “look right” – I just type it into Word and see if it ends up underlined in red. I don’t usually have problems with spelling, but when I’m editing someone else’s work – creative use of punctuation can make me insane.

  25. I use con-science too, that’s funny. And the month rhyme. And “it is” for it’s. And “bring” it to me but “take” it away.

    And I have to be careful with “tonight”, because somewhere along the way the casual “tonite” crept its way into my life and that’s what looks normal to me.

  26. My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas — for the order of planets in proximity to the sun. (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto (which technically is a ‘dwarf planet’ now). I don’t use it everyday, but often enough with my six-year-old.

  27. Oh, the months rhyme… I still use that one all the time! Sometimes I use the “I before E” rhyme, too.

    My favorite is the image I learned to remember prepositions. They’re “anywhere a mouse can go”: over the log, under the log, around the log, behind the log, etc.

    I haven’t used it in a while, but it works like a charm when I get stuck!

  28. A dumb literary one I use:

    “than” has an “a”, like compAre…”then” has an “e” like timE. (never mind that compare has an “e” as well…you’ll just confuse me).

    Non-literary one: I learned how to play guitar while working as a janitor in my youth, and memorized the string tunings as “Empty Ashtrays, Dump Garbage Before Exiting”

  29. I mess up right and left all the time BECAUSE of constantly being told “you write with your right hand” and I’m a lefty!

    Music: Elvis Goes Bopping Down the Freeway

  30. I remember an even further extension of the “i” before “e” except after c, or when sounded like a, or in this sentence: “Neither leisured foreigner seized the weird heights.”
    I also fondly remember 8th grade science class and learning kingdoms, species, etc, from our teacher Mr. Kessler with the sentence “Kessler Punched Cole On Friday Great Show.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember enough science to remember what most of the initials stand for!

  31. We had to make up a few as an exercise in high school. I still remember these two:

    PAR and my golf score are two sePARate numbers.

    There are more desPERate people PER capita… (finish it anyway you like.)

    And I before E, and “thirty days hath September”, although I know the knuckle routine too.

  32. As a teacher I still have all the fun ones:

    Sir Cumference sits around the table (circumference measures around the circle)

    Dracule Must Suck Blood (divide, multiply, subtract, bring down to learn the steps for long division)

    The average teacher is mean (a mean is another word for the average).


  33. I find that when I’m writing I don’t think about mnemonics at all. My writing is focused on the content of the story. The rest only comes into play when I go back and review to make corrections. “Then”, through the use of a spell checker, a loving wife who forces herself to read what I’ve written and a little common sense, everything comes together. (Also spelled To Get Her). However, the best I can recommend is just reading carefully what you’ve just written. “It’s” not fancy, just functional.

  34. I tend to break words down into parts:

    Con + science = Conscience.
    Bus + i + ness = Business.
    And I have to think of Chihuahua as “Chee hooah hooah” to spell that one right.

  35. “I lie myself down. I lay the pen and anything else, down.”

    No, that’s incorrect. I LAY myself down. If it’s transitive, it’s “lay” (and myself is the object of the verb, so the verb is transitive). I lie down. I lay myself down, I lay the pen down.

  36. I learned this from a fellow English teacher… Food is DONE, people are FINISHED.,, don’t know if it’s a grammar rule, but the embarrassement of having her correct me made a believer out of me.

  37. “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” – North, East, South, West

    Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and FACE – musical notes

    I saw someone else mention that one, but theirs was a slightly different version of it.

    Also the rhyme:
    “Thirty days hath September,
    April, June and November;
    February has twenty eight alone
    All the rest have thirty-one
    Except in Leap Year, that’s the time
    When February’s Days are twenty-nine”

    That’s the only way I keep which months have what number of days straight.

  38. I learned that “a rat” in separate back in high school from a government teacher if I recall. Use it all the time.

    Also use the “30 days has…” for the months.

    I don’t have a method for it, but I can always distinguish between “lightening” and “lightning.” 🙂

    It’s not a literary thing, but I always remember the FOIL method for breaking down polynomials in algebra. Funny enough, I showed it in classes I taught in college…and our supervisor (a PhD student in math) had never seen it before. 😛

  39. Hmmm . . . most are too stupid to even try and write down. One variant on ‘i before e . . . ‘ is ‘Pie is served by the piece.’

    Also, we flea market a lot in our small town. So to remember the street names on the other side of town I created:

    “If you RANSOM CLARK, WILSON and HILL will pay.”



    Verification word: ‘cohmes’ gotta mean something!

  40. I confess, I have to write both versions of the words to see which one looks “more” correct. I was never good at remember the little “tricks”. Probably the only trick I use is to separate conscience: con science

  41. Okay — something stupid, but it helps me.

    We moved to our new house and there were the two light switches that I kept getting mixed up. Had to do something.

    left= left it outside (porch)
    right= ‘come right in’ (dining room light)

    word verifacation: equaloid
    hmmm. someone who supports equal rights for androids?

  42. I actually got in trouble in school for pointing out that “i before e” doesn’t always apply. Yes, it does, I was told. What about names, I asked. It always applies in names, too, I was told.

    You see my problem.

  43. “Nobody lays down unless they are bedding a duck” might help with the lie vs. lay issue. People lie down, they lay objects down.

    Of course this only works in present tense; the past tense of lie is lay.

  44. I use both that you mentioned, as well as "to get her".

    Just this week I realized something to help with lay/lie in past tense. Lay is the same as say – laid & said. That means lie is lain. Phew!

  45. I can’t believe these haven’t been mentioned yet:

    To distinguish between desert and dessert–you want more dessert so it has two s’s.

    To spell Mississippi: Mi–crooked letter, crooked letter, i, crooked letter, crooked letter, i, humpback, humpback, i

  46. There is another even more extended version of the I before E rule.

    This comes from my father who is a retired high school English teacher who has devoted his life to literacy.

    I before E except after C
    Or when sounding as A as in
    Neighbor or weigh

    Neither seize foreign leisure
    forfeit and height are exceptions spelled right, but
    DON’T let the CIEN words get you uptight.

    I also love the ROY G. BIV mnemonic and taught that to my son before he entered kindergarten. He has never colored a rainbow in anything less than the order found in Nature.

  47. I’m pretty late in posting but couldn’t resist the chance to chime in.

    I think the two devices I remain conscious of, every time I use them, are: The IRS thinks your money is theirs (to remember the order of the vowels in “theirs”) and Together = to+get+her.

    But I wanted to say, the poem for the days in the month is absolutely impossible for me to remember. September, December, and November all rhyme — but only two of them have thirty days! Which two belong in the poem? Well, you’d have to know which two had thirty days, and which month had thirty-one, to remember which ones belong in the poem! Makes me shudder.

    I use the knuckle thing, too, Jenn, and for those who don’t know it: starting at either end of your hand, point to knuckles and valleys as you list off the months. Knuckles have 31 days, valleys have fewer. You’ll hit the end of your hand on July, and you can either start over on the same hand, or move to the next hand; either way, you will [correctly] end up on a knuckle again – 31 days – for August.

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