spilled and spilt - the difference

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
If you're following US writing conventions, it's best to use spilled. If you're following UK writing conventions, you should also use spilled, but spilt is also widely accepted.

Spilled and Spilt

The verb to spill most commonly means to let a liquid flow over the edge of its container (especially by accident).

To spill 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 spilled or spilt. However, they are not fully interchangeable, especially in the US.

Americans Demand Spilled

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

Brits Prefer Spilled but Will Accept Spilt

Outside America, spilled is the most common of the two, but spilt is generally accepted. (Spilt used to be more common. The change is almost certainly a result of American influence spreading.)

Verbs with Irregular and Regular Forms

The following verbs (like to spell) can be regular or irregular:
VerbPast SimplePast Participle
burnburned OR burntburned OR burnt
dreamdreamed OR dreamtdreamed OR dreamt
learnlearned OR learntlearned OR learnt
also hanged
also hanged
smellsmelled OR smeltsmelled OR smelt
spellspelled OR speltspelled OR spelt

Usually, the second form (e.g., learnt, dreamt) is more common in British English, but this is not the case with spilt.

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? dived and dove e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? hanged and hung imply or infer? its or it's? learned and learnt material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are verbs? What are regular verbs? What are regular verbs? What is the past tense? What are past participles? What are nouns? List of easily confused words