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Grammar: burned or burnt?

Some people adamantly stick to burn, burned, burned while others burn, burnt, burnt. Usually it's the people who insist on learned who use the former while those who insist on burnt use the latter. Others mix and match all four indiscriminately, unaware of any preference. Americans, on the other hand, only use learned and burned. They have managed to decide on one, while the British have not.

The advice on this conundrum in books is often not helpful, but one guide offers the suggestion that burned is the past tense form and that burnt is the past participle adjectival. In plain English, this would mean: He burned the food, so it's his fault that the food is burnt. This makes the advice: burn burned burnt. The OED offers burned and burned as the first alternative, but labels burnt and burnt chiefly British. It does the same for learned and learnt. Should the OED swap the order?


About the author

Jesse Karjalainen is the author of The Joy of English: 100 conversations about the English Language, Cannibal – the language and history of the discovery of the New World, and Roanoke – the language and history of Early Colonial America.