Verb Endings in -ed and -t

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While irregular verbs are often a focus of grammatical errors, regular verbs are a frequent source of spelling errors.

Most regular verbs form their past tense by adding -ed to the base: accept/accepted.

A few verbs form the past tense with a -t ending: build/built.

Some spelling errors result from the fact that the -ed ending may be pronounced in one of three ways:

/ed/ complimented
/d/ loved
/t/ equipped

A common spelling error occurs with words that end with the sound /t/, but are spelled with –ed. For example, wrecked, might be misspelled as “wreckt.”

Some of verbs that end with the sound /t/ do spell the sound with -t.


Some verbs that end with the /t/ sound may be spelled with either -ed or -t. The -t ending for these verbs is more common in British spelling.

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

Most American speakers would probably consider leapt, leant, learnt, smelt, and spelt out-and-out misspellings. Burnt, dreamt, knelt, spilt, and spoilt, however, do occur in U.S. speech and writing.

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14 thoughts on “Verb Endings in -ed and -t”

  1. I think many British English speakers would consider words such as leant, spelt and smelt as out-and-out misspellings.

    Then again, I find that if I read the same word over and over and over it loses all meaning or semblance of correctness, no matter whether it has been spelt or spelled correctly.

  2. Jon:

    There are many things said on here about what British people say/think that I am surprised at, having never or rarely encountered them.

    But in the case of spelt, smelt and leant I semi-agree with the article. Most people seem to accept those spellings, even if their variants are becoming more popular.

  3. How funny that there is an ad on today’s post page for M-Modal, the company I work for LOL
    I am fine with all the alternative spellings listed (e.g. learned/learnt), and have seen both in my reading all my life. I would only suggest that some be reserved for one meaning only, such as smelt (for the fish) and spelt (for the grain). Not that there would be any confusion in context, of course.
    Although I have not done any internet searches for hits, in my reading I have not seen spoilt as being common (at least not here in the US), whether applied to children or food. I personally use the words dreamt, burnt and knelt more often than their -ed forms. I have never used leant or learnt except maybe in Scrabble/WWF LOL.

  4. I consider the verbs whose past tenses end in “t” to be IRREGULAR verbs. For example:
    bend/bent, feel/felt, keep/kept, leave/left, lend/lent, lose/lost, mean/meant, send/sent, sleep/slept, spend/spent, weep/wept.

    In other words, if the past tense does not end in “ed”, then the verb is an irregular verb. It might be only mildly irregular, but it is irregular nevertheless. When a vowel disappears, then the word is out-and-out irregular, such as in these words {feel, keep, leave, lose, sleep, weep, knelt}. It is the mathematician in me: if something is a little bit irregular, then it is irregular all the way.

    I have been told that the present participles of ALL verbs in English are regular. In other words, they all end in “ing”. I have been unable to think of ANY exceptions. Can you? For example, the present participle of “to be” is “being” and the present participle of “to have” is “having”. I have been able to think of a few verbs that do not have a present participle at all, such as “can” (to be able) and “may”, so are these cases of nonexistence an irregularity?

  5. “Most American speakers would …, do occur in U.S. speech and writing.”
    I do not get it about the use of “American” now and “U.S.” then, especially since “U.S.” = “United States” is a noun and not an adjective. The adjectival form of “United States of America” is “American”.
    Therefore, I would have written: “Most American speakers and WRITERS would …, do occur in American speech and writing.”

    Likewise, the adjectival form of “Confederate States of America” is “Confederate”, and the adjectival form of “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” is “British”, and the adjectival form of “The Kingdom of the Netherlands” is “Dutch”.
    Recently, I have seen “Peru” printed when “Peruvian” was needed, and “Mexico” written when “Mexican” was needed. “Argentinean” is always a big problem, especially among British and Irish writers.
    I could tell then that this words ends just like “Tennessean”, but then they do not know anything about the great state of Tennessee, either.

  6. I am a fan of the traditional, including irregular verbs, but I have to admit many or most of the examples sound entirely foreign (British) or just plain antique to me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard *spoilt* in an American context. *Burnt*, I think, is the only one on list that I regularly hear or see in the US. *Knelt*, perhaps, *dreamt* on an off-Tuesday.

    Actually *Argentine* seems to be the most popular demonym for Argentina, though I think Argentinean is preferrable. Even the official name of the country translates as “Argentine Republic”, compare to French Republic, Italian Republic, Portuguese Republic, etc.

  7. BTW, I completely agree with DAW in that “The adjectival form of “United States of America” is “American”. The recent imaginary slight that claiming the adjective “American” for the people of the US is petty, ridiculous and without any foundation. The continent of relevance is NORTH America, and the term *North American* is commonly applied when the continent– or just the US and Canada and maybe Mexico (e.g.;NAFTA)– is meant as opposed to the US alone. And it is equally wrong when the term North American is applied when the US alone is meant. E.g.; “The Number One North American car manufacturer”, when the only North American car companies are American (albeit with factories and subsidiaries elsewhere). It only impedes communication when a clearly intended term is purposefully obfuscated to fit someone’s political or social agenda.

    It is true that in a purely political context United States is used as an adjective, and rightly so. It is the US Air Force, the US Department of Justice, etc, not the “American Navy” or “North American Justice Department”.

  8. This page has an excellent comment on this:

    Learnt and learned are not the same thing at all.

    Learnt is the past tense of the verb to learn and is used in the simple past (preterite). I learnt French at school.

    Learned is the past participle and used in the perfect tense. I have learned to speak French.

    A verb which behaves in a similar way is dream.

    Last night dreamt I was in an aeroplane.

    I have often dreamed of winning the lottery.

    However, as most native English speakers don’t know the difference and the tendency is to standardize or use either form I wouldn’t bother about which form you use; however strictly, the above is correct.

  9. @Cheryl: That might be interesting but it’s not excellent. Whoever the poster on the website is has no idea what he is talking about and apparently pulled this “distinction” out of his…out of thin air. This is what Oxford has to say:

    Learnt or learned: These are alternative forms of the past tense and past participle of the verb learn. ‘Learnt’ is more common in British English, and ‘learned’ in American English. There are a number of verbs of this type (burn, dream, kneel, lean, leap, spell, spill, spoil etc.). They are all irregular verbs, and this is a part of their irregularity.

    No simple past preterits or perfect tense distinctions. The two are nothing but alternative forms of the same thing, one has been preserved more in BrE, and the other preferred in SAE. Same with dreamt/dreamed. No difference, technical or otherwise, just different formations of the same thing. IOW, they ARE the same thing and there is nothing correct, strictly or otherwise, about this supposed distinction.

  10. I am happy to read that somebody agrees with me that verbs that end in “t” in their past tense are irregular. In contrast, Maeve had claimed that there were regular verbs in this set.

    Venqax put this quite well: “It is true that in a purely political context United States is used as an adjective, and rightly so.”
    I had always expressed it in a way that is more wordy: “when referring to the Federal Government of the United States”. Expressing this in a more compact way is good.

    I also agree that these are correct, and I will just abbreviate most of them. U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S.A.F., U.S.M.C., U.S.D.A., U.S.D.I.,
    U.S.D.J., U.S.C.G., U.S.D.O.D.

    Back in the 1960s or early 70s, I took a course in AMERICAN GOVERNMENT and that was the name of the textbook, too. I think that it is important to recognize that this course covered not only topics in the Federal Government, but also topics (held in common) of the state governments, and topics from the various kinds of county and municipal government.

    Some people have told me that their courses and textbooks were about U.S. GOVERNMENT, and I told them that this was disagreeable because that would refer only to the Federal Government and omit all of the subsidiary governments in the United States. In addition, I like the adjective AMERICAN better.

  11. As a member of Great Britain, I disagree with D.A.W. about ‘British’ being the adjectival form of ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. It is the adjectival form of ‘Great Britain’. Something can be ‘of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ without being British. Just ask anybody from Northern Ireland.

  12. Where I live, more and more I’m hearing the word “turnt” used as a past tense version of “turned.” It’s a slang usage, obviously, and is used to describe food or drink that has spoiled, as in “that apple cider is turnt.” Would not be surprised to see this usage become so common as to make it into the dictionary, if it isn’t there yet.

  13. @Karen: I understand. I’m American, but my family(ies) come from NI. FWIW, they don’t like being called Irish, either.

  14. I was taught by someone, at some point, that burned was the past tense of burn, and burnt was an adjective. So, I burned my toast this morning, and it’s still burnt now. I don’t think there is any linguistic authority behind that at all, but I digested it for some reason and have observed it since. I try to distinguish between actual standards and my personal preferences. But if an American student wrote, “I burnt my toast this morning”, I’d red-mark ’em! I think my SAE spellcheck would, too,

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