Word Choice – Learned Versus Learnt

BizWritingTip reader: “My colleagues and I were astounded to learn that “learnt” is an acceptable British variation of “learned,” to express past learning. It is accepted by MS Word in its “Spell-check.” However, the MS Word thesaurus does not offer a synonym. Is this widely used and accepted as proper English in North America, or is it only when using the Queen’s English?

BizWritingTip response: I have always been told that in the U.K. the past tense of “learn” is “learnt,” but in the U.S. it is “learned.” And Canadian usage follows the American style — in this instance.


I learned the new procedure in under an hour. (North American style)

I learnt the new procedure in under an hour. (U.K. style)

However, someone with obviously way too much time on his hands did a Google search for the two words. His findings were as follows:

U.S. sites: “I learned” appeared 611,000 times versus “I learnt” that appeared only 12,300 times.

U.K. sites: “I learned” appeared 19,300 times versus “I learnt” — 13,400 times.

This shows “learned” is growing in popularity in the Queen’s English. Language constantly evolves. This is a prime example.

Frankly, my call would be to stick to a consistent use of the word “learned.” However, if I saw “learnt,” I wouldn’t raise a learned eyebrow.