Spilled or Spilt?

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Spilled or Spilt?

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 widely accepted.

spilled or spilt?
This graph shows that "spilled" has been more popular than "spilt" in British English since the 1940s.

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, "spilled" is the most popular in the UK and 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 more common of the two, but "spilt" is generally accepted. ("Spilt" was more common in British English throughout the 20th century, but "spilled" is now more common. [evidence] (The change is almost certainly a result of American influence spreading.)

Spilt Milk

The idiom "Do not cry over spilt milk" is advice not to get upset about something which cannot be changed.

If you're an American, this might be your big chance to use the word "spilt." You can always claim you're quoting an old idiom with British origins. ("Spilled milk" is also frequently written, so please don't think this is a rule. It's more of an opportunity.)

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
smellsmelled OR smeltsmelled OR smelt
spellspelled OR speltspelled OR spelt
Often, the second form (e.g., "learnt," "dreamt") is more common in British English, but this is not the case with "spilt."

Read also about "hanged" and "hung."
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