Grammar Tip – Learned or Learnt

Grace’s question: “Is the word ‘learned’ as past tense right or should it be ‘learnt’ instead?”

BizWritingTip response:  “Learn” is an interesting verb. When using it in the past tense or as a past participle, you have two options.

Examples (correct)

learned about the meeting last week. (past tense)

learnt about the meeting last week. (past tense)

have learned about your decision. (past participle)

have learnt about your decision. (past participle)

Learnt is more common in British English, and “learned in American English. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary accepts both.

There are a number of other verbs that also fall into this category:

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

Dictionaries usually show the principal parts of verbs with unusual endings. If you are in doubt about any form, check your dictionary.

Note: I always recommend using the spelling style of the reader. That way you will not distract the reader from your message. Remember your goal is to communicate clearly not to try to educate a reader to your spelling preference.

  • Thanks for the latest newsletter. It highlighted a significant
    difference that I had noticed in business communications, but couldn’t
    put my finger on. This explains why we felt that job applicants who
    were educated in England did not appear to have written applications
    that measured up to those from Australia and the USA. We’ll bear this
    in mind when evaluating candidates in the future.
    Phil Gray – Queensland