The Differences Between Learnt vs Learned

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The English language has many variants presenting great challenges to both native speakers and learners. The language has many intricacies and subtle unimportant differences. It is a challenging, but rewarding feat to learn to use these variations correctly. This article will review the difference between learnt vs. learned. It is the past tense of the verb ‘learn’.

When do we use learnt vs learned?

Both ‘learnt’ and ‘learned’ are correct and function as the past tense and past participle forms of the verb ‘to learn’. In the English-speaking world, both are proper and commonly used. There is one difference between the two, which is that the spelling changes depending on where it is used. In the United States and Canada ‘learned’ is favored, both when speaking and writing. On the other hand, while using British English ‘learnt’ is the most appropriate and conventional.

One rule of thumb is to adapt to the readers. Ask yourself who your audience is and use the word that they are familiar with. Both spellings are correct, however, you should keep one version consistent throughout your writing. Don’t mix and match the words in the same document or when speaking.

Of course, there are exceptions – the English language is full of them! ‘Learned’ is also used as an adjective when describing a person that is knowledgeable, well-read, or some type of scholar. It refers to someone that has a solid academic background. They might be called a ‘learned’ person. The word is pronounced differently than when using the verb. It is pronounced with two syllables ‘learn-ed’.

Learnt vs Learned and How They Are Used

When using them as verbs, both ‘learned’ and ‘learnt’ can be used as the past tense and past participle. When choosing one version of the word, keep in mind where you are and who your audience might be. Are you addressing an American or European crowd?

The vert ‘to learn’ means to discover, find out, retain, or acquire new information. When referring to this action in the past, you’ll choose between ‘learned’ and ‘learnt’.

How Did the Variation Come About?

In American English, there is a tendency to make irregular verbs regular. This has started altering British English, which is why the variant -ed has developed into a commonly used updated version throughout the globe. It is likely that ‘learned’ will become the preferred spelling anywhere you go.

Examples From Around the World

Let’s take a look at how both versions are used globally:

  1. “Brian has learned from watching his students when it is a good time to take a break from reading.”
  2. “The New York Times has learned that new technology will help them capture more online readers, which will increase their monthly subscriptions.”
  3. “The student enjoyed what he learned in class on Monday about frogs and their habitat.”
  4. “I learned to be patient when it comes to waiting for an answer to come from my attorney.”
  5. “What was learned by the group during class helped them while visiting the art gallery.”

The Exception When ‘Learned’ Must Be Used”

Regardless of where you live, there are times when ‘learned’ is the only correct option. This is the case when you are writing it as an adjective. This is where ‘learnt’ is incorrect. Moreover, the pronunciation will changed to two syllables “ler-ned”.

You may use this adjective when you want to describe someone who is very well educated or knowledgeable.

Examples of ‘Learned’ as an Adjective

  1. “The man who barely graduated high school went on to college to become a very learned person.”
  2. “We are pleased to have you represent our nation as you are one of the most learned women in politics.”
  3. “Although he went to college, he did not become a learned person because of his lack of discipline.”
  4. “When you become a learned person, you’ll start to appreciate the world differently.”
  5. “A learned doctor gave the right diagnosis because of the extensive research on the condition.”

When is ‘Learnt’ Appropriate?

The only time ‘learnt’ may be used is as a past tense verb when using British English. This version is quickly starting to disappear, which makes it possible that you’ll hear the American version even when using British English.

Examples of ‘Learnt’

When using British English you may hear these types of sentences:

  1. “My daughter reviewed lessons learnt on Wednesday in her biology class.”
  2. “We all have learnt life lessons from our experiences and we will continue to learn.”
  3. “I was amused to see my dog perform all the new tricks it learnt.”
  4. “It is common to have learnt about nature during camping trips.”
  5. “We learnt the true story about the woman that traveled the world for 20 years.”

How to Remember the Difference

One simple trick you can use to remember which version of the word to use is to completely omit ‘learnt’ from your vocabulary. You can’t go wrong by doing this because British English only uses it as a past tense verb, and it is overrided by ‘learned’ in that context as well.

The only time you might want to consider using ‘learnt’ is when you really want to capture the style of British English with a very specific audience.

It is easy to remember to choose learned or learnt since most English verbs end in -ed.

Final Thoughts

Remember that both versions – ‘learned’ and ‘learnt’ are past tense forms of the verb ‘to learn’. Both have the same meaning, with a different spelling.

In the case of using the word ‘learned’ as an adjective to describe a well-educated person, this is the only correct spelling with a two-syllable pronunciation.

Although ‘learnt’ is quickly phasing out of the universal English language, it is still appropriate when conveying a message using British English.

In formal writing and for a wider audience, using ‘learned’ is the correct spelling of the past tense form of ‘to learn’.

Remember which one to use by keeping in mind that most past tense verbs end with -ed. As a rule of thumb using ‘learned’ is the most appropriate way when speaking and writing.


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