• 2-minute read
  • 12th October 2020

Word Choice: Learned vs. Learnt

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

Learned/Learnt as a Verb

The main use of ‘learned’ is as the past tense form 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, in Australian English, we can also spell this word ‘learnt’:

He never learnt from his mistakes.

We have learnt a lot from the course.

This is because 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.

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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 both Australian and US English: 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 Australian English.
  • Learned (adjective) – Pronounced with two syllables (i.e. ‘learn-ed’), this term is an adjective meaning ‘educated’ or ‘scholarly’.

To make life simple, you might even ignore ‘learnt’ entirely! ‘Learned’ is much more common, even in Australia. 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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