Learnt Vs. Learned – What’s the difference?


In commonwealth countries, people use “learnt” for past tense and past participle for learn. Here’s an explanation from AskOxford on this matter:

http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutspelling/learnt

What is the difference between ‘learnt’ and ‘learned’?

* Learnt is more common in British English, and learned in American English.
* There are a number of verbs of this type (burn, dream, kneel, lean, leap, spell, spill, spoil etc.).
* They are all irregular verbs, and this is a part of their irregularity.

The *prescriptive* answer is:

“learned” should used in phrases such as “a learned professor”, in which case it is pronounced with two syllables.
“learnt” should be used in phrases like “I learnt a valuable lesson today”.

The *descriptive* answer in British English is:
“learned” is used in phrases such as “a learned professor”, in which case it is pronounced with two syllables.
Either “learnt” or “learned” are used interchangably in phrases like “I learnt a valuable lesson today”.

The *descriptive* answer in American English is:
There is no such word as “learnt”. Use “learned” always.

Learned and learnt are basically the same. They are both used as the past tense form and past participle of “learned”.

Google search for both the words results in:

* EDU(USA) sites : I learned/learnt 3,860,000/158,000 I have learned/learnt 8,350,000/171,000 learned man/learnt man 2,970,000/59,900

* UK sites : I learned/learnt 1,600,000/1,950,000 I have learned/learnt 3,940,000/1,720,000 learned man/learnt man 1,730,000/763,000

What the results tell are:

1. American speakers mostly use “learned” for the past and the verbal past participle, while “learned” and “learnt” share roughly equal among British speakers.
2. “Learnt” is used as an adjectival past participle in neither American English nor British English.

Linguistic specialists suggest them to be used in the following ways:
LEARN is the present tense, and the conjugated form of the verb “to learn”.
It can be converted to the past tense in the following ways:
I LEARNED lots of things along the way. The main verb is “learned”.
LEARNT is the “past participle” in the following sentences. (Past participles are used in conjunction with other verbs).
I have learnt not to be prejudiced towards Americans or people of other nationalities. (creziauk!)
I had learnt my lesson on peer pressure, the hard way.

To summarize, 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.

In addition, there are a number of verbs of the type -ed ~ -t:

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

All are irregular verbs.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Elizabeth on August 16, 2012 at 3:18 am

    When I went to elementary school in the ’70s in Rhode Island, we were taught to use learnt, burnt, spelt, etc. and I consequently, I still do. I relocated to California in 1983 and I distinctly remember someone laughing when I used these words, so I suspect it might be regional, perhaps New England english was closer to British English? We also pronounced the word “aunt” the British way, where in CA, they said “ant”.

    Reply

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