Day 755: I Before E, The Extended 12″ Remix Version

originally published January 24, 2014

Those who know me know that I love mnemonics. I recite them often in an instructional way, which is why those who know me try not to spend a lot of time around me. Mnemonics – in particular those little rhymes that assist in remembering grammar and spelling – should be on the tip of everyone’s tongue when they’re writing. I just finished responding to some dopey twit on who had made the astute observation that the Pro Bowl captains “should of been aloud” to choose the position order of their drafts. First off, he’s wrong – that was exactly how they ran the draft. Secondly, his clumsy manhandling of the English language suggests that he’s either too stupid to throw a brick at or else a Patriots fan. 

Speaking of which, it’s time for my annual tradition of posting a Sad Tom Brady pic: 

Because there are only a handful of rhyming mnemonics pertaining to the English language, I might be able to improve the linguistic landscape of our little worldly-wide web by adding a few more. To be clear, I’m not bothered when I see texting lingo in a discussion forum – if you want to type ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ or ‘2’ instead of ‘to’, I say go for it. Prince was doing it decades ago. 

But if you’re going to mount an argument and drop a Yobogoya ‘their’ splatter when you meant to say ‘they’re’, then I may still listen to your point, but I’ll read it in my head in a vile, nasally, downright Gottfriedian voice. So there. 

Let’s start with the one we all know: 

I after E, 

Except after C, 

Or when sounded as ‘A’, 

As in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh’. 

That’s cute. It’s easy to remember, gets right to the point, and should guide an English-language newbie through his or her quest to master the unheralded art of correct spelling. But it’s not comprehensive. I’m proposing a few more verses, just to make sure we’re covering as many of the rule’s exceptions as possible: 

Though words with ‘-CY’ 

Be they urban or rural, 

Will end ‘CIE’, 

Just like ‘species’, in plural. 

But what about ‘science’? 

That word seems deficient; 

And hey, there’s another! 

It’s so inefficient! 

Oh jeez, it’s the Latin 

When dropped as a prefix, 

‘Society’, ‘Prescient’, 

I need a Kleenex. 

So ‘E’ before ‘I’ 

In ‘Foreign’ and ‘Vein’, 

And ‘Seize’, ‘Their’ and ‘Weird’; 

This rule is a pain. 

In fact, in this language 

It’s rather absurd; 

This dumb rule is followed 

By far too few words. 

Okay, so I have effectively rendered the bouncy mnemonic completely useless. But I before E is more of a suggestion than a rule to begin with – in the Oxford English Dictionary, 5,414 words have ‘E’ next to ‘I’ and follow the rules of the initial verses, while 2,807 break them. That’s a lot of exceptions. 

Here are a few other handy tricks to help you remember the correct way to piece your thoughts together: 

Remember in all of your legal expungement 

To take out the ‘E’ where it should be in ‘judgment’. 

For ‘T-I-O-N’ you say ‘SH’ every time 

Except for ‘Equation’ (or if you’re a mime). 

Remember that ‘they’re’ ain’t a place or possessive; 

It’s short for ‘they are’, ass-face! Whoops – too aggressive. 

And ‘their’ with an ‘I’ means it’s something they own, 

‘Their Buick’, ‘Their teabag’, ‘Their last Toblerone.’ 

While ‘there’ (E-R-E) is for all other uses; 

I hope this solves all homophonic abuses. 

I’m thinking I should be up for some kind of award if this works. If I can get just one person to adjust their online mangling of the language, then… well, that won’t be much. I’m dribbling an eyedropper of medicine into a sea of typos and faulty word usage. I’m no hero, just some schmuck throwing a punch at a tornado. 

And so I continue: 

If something’s excessive 

Or far too intense; 

Avoid using ‘T-O’ 

Or look rather dense. 

To get to a place, 

To a time, to a thought, 

Don’t use ‘T-O-O’ 

For the right one it’s not. 

And if you are spelling 

What’s five minus three, 


Is the right one for thee. 

There’s no brighter sign 

Of a write-stifled boor 

Than a scribe who confuses 

His ‘your’ with his ‘you’re’. 

If meaning ‘you are’ 

Then ‘apostrophe-E’; 

This should be corrected 

As soon as grade three. 

If something is yours 

Then forgo all the drama; 

Just ‘Y-O-U-R’, 

Drop the hovering comma. 

This is fun. I’m going to wake up each morning and recite these before my first keyboard finger-thump. I may simply paste a link to this article every time I see a flagrant disregard for linguistic decorum on Facebook. That’ll help keep my friend-count in the low numbers. 

The ‘C’ and the ‘G’ 

Both deserve your protection, 

For in the wrong crowd 

They might lose their erection; 

A ‘guh’ becomes ‘juh’ 

When this rule is aloft; 

‘Round ‘E’, ‘I’ or ‘Y’ 

Both these letters are soft. 

When playing a golf game 

Your sister may lose; 

Call her ‘loose’ with a typo 

And you’ll get a bruise. 

When something’s finite 

It’s not often misspelled; 

But then when it’s definite, 

Sense goes to hell. 

There’s no ‘A’ appearing 

Inside of that word; 

“It’s not ‘DEF-IN-ATE’” 

Says the old grammar nerd. 

And what of the screw-ups 

When ‘Its’ should be ‘It’s’? 

Can’t spot the contraction, 

You young careless shits? 

Okay, just a few more. I’m thankfully running out of English language quirks that jab me in the eyes whenever I see them online. Also, I’m sounding a little bit twattish in some of these, particularly in that last one. Sorry about that. 

Those special effects 

(Like a CGI clown) 

Will start with an ‘E’ 

When the word is a noun. 

If something affects you 

It starts with an ‘A’; 

That’s just how it is, 

There ain’t no other way. 

Whether the weather 

Is wet or abhorrent, 

The proper selection 

Your writing will warrant. 

You’d best squish together 

From two words ‘CANNOT’, 

While splitting apart 

The true word-pair ‘A LOT’. 

And when you’re comparing 

Your A/C and fan, 

You’ll know which one’s better 

And write it with ‘than.’ 

If something should happen 

Then something subsequent, 

Then ‘THEN’ you will use 

(This will happen more frequent). 

And before I forget 

(Though your skull I should halve), 

It’s never “should of”, 

You dumb Pats fan – ‘SHOULD HAVE!!!’ 

Hopefully this little primer in correct language will lead to a revolution in eloquent Youtube comments and more aesthetically pleasing comparisons to Hitler in discussion room arguments. I doubt it, but at least I tried. 

And I made fun of Patriots fans a little. Maybe I’m a grammar snob but at least I’m not one of them. 

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