The Correct Word – Learned or Learnt

I have often been asked this question: Which is the correct past tense of learnlearned or learnt? Well, the answer is simple. Both are correct. Yes, both learned and learnt may be used as the past of learn depending on which form of English you’re using. Learned is used in American English, and learnt in British English. But these days, due to the influence of American English, learned is also being written in Britain.  So, in short, both the forms are correct. The only thing to remember is – whichever form you use, be consistent. Don’t use both learned and learnt together.

There’s just one case where only learned is used – whether British or American English. This is when used as an adjective meaning “possessing or demonstrating profound knowledge”. For example, ‘a learned person’ or ‘a learned response’. In this case, learned is pronounced with two syllables – “learn” and “ed”, unlike learned as a verb where it’s just one syllable.

There are some other verbs that have both ‘ed’ (American) and ‘t’ (British) endings for past tense:

Spell – spelled, spelt

Leap – leaped, leapt

Burn – burned, burnt

Spill – spilled, spilt

Spoil – spoiled, spoilt

Dream – dreamed, dreamt

Kneel – kneeled, knelt

Can you think of any more?

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24 Responses

  1. [...] The Correct Word – Learned or Learnt « The Write Corner [...]

  2. Great article, thanks, really helpful.

  3. Very clear and suscinct. I had become confused–which isn’t unusual of course. Thanks very much.

  4. Great info. Thanks for that! I didn’t realize that the difference in usage was due to British/American usage. Very interesting.

  5. Weird story – I always thought the ‘ed’ and the ‘t’ endings denoted how quickly the action passed: like if the cat leaped, it did it over a long distance, or in slow motion; but if it leapt, it did it quite quickly or decisively.
    I realise, after having read this, that that was just me accounting for American and British influences on Australian schooling. Thanks for setting me straight! (I’ll be sticking to British English :P)

  6. I thought the different suffixes were for different purposes. e.g.

    I burned the toast. (past tense verb)

    The toast is burnt. (adjective)

    Anyone?

  7. I quote another website which seems more correct: “Learnt and learned are not the same thing at all.

    Learnt is the past tense of the verb to learn and is used in the simple past (preterite). I learnt French at school.

    Learned is the past participle and used in the perfect tense. I have learned to speak French.

    A verb which behaves in a similar way is dream.

    Last night dreamt I was in an aeroplane.

    I have often dreamed of winning the lottery.

    However, as most native English speakers don’t know the difference and the tendency is to standardize or use either form I wouldn’t bother about which form you use; however strictly, the above is correct.”

    • Exactly – this is actually the correct answer and the original post is just plain wrong – it has nothing to do with differences between US and British English, and everything to do with the two tenses ‘past simple’ and ‘present perfect’.

      • You are wrong. Read the Oxford dictionary, there is no official difference between Learnt and Learned.

    • You are incorrect. The Oxford Dictionary clearly states there are no consistent rules to the difference between Learnt and Learned and they are pretty much interchangeable.

      • There is no ‘official’ in the English language.

      • Well the Oxford Dictionary might well be a trustworthy source, despite the nebulous description, “pretty much interchangeable,” and I will look it up, but my main point was that, in my opinion, the correct usage has nothing to do with differences between British, Canadian, or American English as the original moderator stated and others seemed to pick up on. It sure would make it easier if they truly are interchangeable.

  8. So the ball is in your court THE WRITE CORNER, do you agree?

  9. Wait, so which one is more acceptable in Canada? I’ve heard both used but I don’t know which to use.

    • Please Review All Replies To This Thread. It Has Been Stated, Correctly I Believe, That The Original Post Was Incorrect English.

  10. I have looked in several places on the internet and am constantly astounded that people offer answers that don’t differentiate between different tenses. One even described the past participle as an adjective, whereas the simple past as a “verb in its own right”. Well there’s something to that, but it doesn’t look like a good understanding of tense.

    I was convinced of the answer Paul gave (Nov 14 2012) and it makes more sense than any other account I’ve seen. Most postings are just repetitions of other internet-based guff.

    Quite apart from anything else, that explanation actually means that there is some (albeit small) practical value in differentiating.

    • I think Phil states it well on May 1, 2013. One cannot employ the overused dodge of differences in Canadian, British, or American English to justify wrong grammar. I wish the “Write Corner,” would correct their original post of over 3 years ago!

      • Paul—I don’t think the “Write Corner” has anyone monitoring what is posted here. We could plan terror attacks here and no one would notice.

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