Word Choice: Learned vs. Learnt

Word Choice Learned vs. Learnt

Is there a difference between “learned” and “learnt”? Or are these spellings interchangeable? This may depend on what you’re trying to say and whether you’re from the USA or somewhere like the UK! To make sure your writing is always error free, then, check out our guide to these words below.

Learned/Learnt as a Verb

Typically, “learned” is the past tense of “learn” (meaning “gain knowledge”). We can use it as a simple past tense verb or as a past participle:

He never learned from his mistakes.

We have learned a lot from the course.

However, outside the USA, this word is sometimes spelled “learnt”:

He never learnt from his mistakes.

We have learnt a lot from the course.

This is because British English, and dialects close to British English such as Australian English, has regular “-ed” and irregular “-t” forms of some verbs. Other examples include “burned/burnt” and “dreamed/dreamt.” These “-t” endings are much rarer in American English, though.

Learned as an Adjective

“Learned” can also be an adjective meaning “educated” or “scholarly”:

As a learned woman, Aiko valued having time to read.

As an adjective, “learned” is pronounced with two syllables (i.e., “learn-ed”), whereas the verb form is pronounced as a single syllable. And when you’re using this word as an adjective, there is only one correct spelling in all English dialects: it is always “learned,” never “learnt.”

Summary: Learned or Learnt?

These can be tricky words to master, but the key things to remember are:

  • Learned (verb) – The standard past tense form of “learn.”
  • Learnt (verb) – A variant spelling of “learned” in British English.
  • Learned (adjective) – Pronounced with two syllables (i.e., “learn-ed”), this term is an adjective meaning “educated” or “scholarly.”

In American English, then, you can ignore “learnt” entirely! And “learned” is the most common spelling even outside the USA, so there is rarely any need for this spelling. The one exception would be if you were using a style guide that asked you to use “learnt” as the past tense of “learn.”

And to be sure your writing is error free, don’t forget to get it proofread.

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