Learned VS Learnt

Working on my novel the other night brought this question to mind. My upbringing in terms of spelling and grammar was slightly confusing. In prep school they used and taught from the A Beka curriculum which included spelling and grammar. The issue which I later learnt when entering High School is that Jamaica uses the British spelling and grammar rules while A Beka was a U.S publication. Needless to say the rest of my life has been riddled with “misspellings” and even now my readers may note that I use both in my writing. Unintentionally of course.

I typed learnt into a document and it came up mispelt. My word processor is set to the U.S Language since I write for many clients who follow the U.S spelling and grammar rules. I know that this alteration in spelling and grammar by these two countries has confused quite a few of us.  Well here is FWJ to save the day.


First off, this issue is purely a difference in how two regions spell this word. Therefore, both words are correct. But this purely depends on your assignment or where you are from.


Both words are the past tense of the verb LEARN which means:

1. Gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.

2. Commit to memory.

LEARNED when ended with ‘ED’ is American English.

LEARNT when ended with a ‘T’ is British English


Both learned and learnt are alternative spellings of the past tense and past participle of the verb learn.

Learnt is more common in British English, and learned in American English.

English (as in Queen’s English):
learned“: a present participle that performs the role of an adjective by qualifying a following noun.
learnt“: a past participle that performs the role of a adjective by qualifying a noun.

These words will be participles only if used along with a helping verb, also called an auxiliary verb like “to be” or “to have”. If used without an auxiliary verb, there is a possibility that the word “learnt” is actually a verb and not a participle. This depends entirely upon the sentence structure.

Both these words are derived from the infinitive of the verb “to learn”. While “learned” refers to a current state of acquired knowledge of the accusative noun, in this case the the noun following the word “learned”; the word “learnt” refers to a past incident that caused the accusative noun to become aware of something or gain some knowledge.

Stephen Hawkins is a learned man.” [present participle: “learned”; auxiliary verb: “is” (to be)]
I have learnt a lot of thing by attending this class.” [past participle: “learnt”; auxiliary verb: “have” (to have)]
I learnt about it last night.” [verb: “learnt”; auxiliary verb: none, not required, because “learnt” is a verb in it’s own right]

If the sentence “I learnt about it last night.” sounds confusing as to why “learnt” is a verb, try rephrasing it as “I did learn about it last night.“. Although there is a subtle difference between the two sentences, they convey the same meaning. (source)


There are a few other words which follow this rule when used in the past tense. If you know of any more feel free to add them in the comment box.

burned, burnt
dreamed, dreamt
kneeled, knelt
leaned, leant
leaped, leapt
spelled, spelt
spilled, spilt
spoiled, spoilt




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