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learned and learnt - the difference

The Quick Answer
If you're following US writing conventions, use learned.
If you're following UK writing conventions, use learnt.

If you're describing someone as educated, you must use learned.

Learned and learnt

The verb to learn means to acquire knowledge of, or skill in, something through study or experience.

To learn is one of those verbs with both an irregular form and a regular form. (See the table below for some others.)

The past tense and the past participle can be written as either learned or learnt. However, they are not interchangeable, especially in the US.

Americans Demand Learned

In America, learned dominates. The use of learnt as the past tense or past participle of to learn is considered a spelling mistake by many. It will certainly annoy a fair proportion of your readers.

Brits Prefer Learnt

Outside America, learnt is more common, but learned is generally accepted. (This is almost certainly a result of American influence spreading.)

Verbs with Irregular and Regular Forms

The following verbs (like to learn) can be regular or irregular:

VerbPast SimplePast Participle
burnburned OR burntburned OR burnt
dreamdreamed OR dreamtdreamed OR dreamt
learnlearned OR learntlearned OR learnt
hanghung
also hanged
hung
also hanged
smellsmelled OR smeltsmelled OR smelt
spellspelled OR speltspelled OR spelt

As with learnt, the second form (e.g. spelt, dreamt) is more common in British English.

Note

If You Mean Educated, You Must Use Learned

The word learned is used as an adjective meaning knowledgeable, wise or well-educated. It has two syllables and is stressed on the first one (i.e., LEARN + ed).
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