28 July 2013

Regarding spelling - Learnt, Dreamt, Leapt, Burnt, Knelt, Slept, Spelt...etc

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Resolved Question

A question regarding spelling - Learnt, Dreamt, Leapt, Burnt, Knelt, Slept, Spelt...etc?

I have grown up using words like learnt or slept or spelt...etc all my life. I watch TV (I have the subtitles on due to sometime being unable to hear things properly), and even then they're said and spelt with the 't' on the end (instead of it being learned, it's learnt for example). 
I have always been taught that this is correct. 
Recently, however, I've had people come to me and basically pull me to pieces by saying that I don't know how to spell or write. They say that dreamt isn't even a word and that it's dreamed - the same for many, many other words. Basically, they're saying that all of this is incorrect, even though I hear it and even read it every day (I was watching BBCs Merlin yesterday and I swear Gaius saying 'learnt'). 
A few days ago I think someone pulled me up because I had used burnt, and then said that I was wrong and that burnt wasn't even a real word - that it was burned, even though burnt sounded completely right to me. 
I don't understand. Until now (even in school), I was never told that words like those were 'unacceptable', and yet now I find myself attacked by some people who say things like 'you can't even spell correctly' or 'those words don't even exist'. 
I'm really confused. 
Do they exist? Have I been spelling things wrong all these years? 

Best Answer - Chosen by Asker


The difference between '-t' and '-ed' has fallen largely into one of usage, not strict rules. As an author I found myself doing this too inconsistently and finished up making up my own 'rule' for it-- and then following it. I call it the Burnt Toast Rule

I use the '-t' ending for past participles and the '-ed' ending for simple past. This follows the use of when the verb form is being used as a participial, such as in 'burnt toast'. You would not say you ate 'burned toast' for breakfast; you would always say (or mean to say) 'burnt toast'. So for the past participle I follow the same rule-- 'I burned the toast' and 'I had burnt the toast.' Consistently used, this begins to make sense. 

The problem in US usage is that people (particularly young, less-well-read people) tend to *assume* the '-t' ending is either standard, regular usage (it's not, in the US) or else indicative of an elevated awareness of language (read that: pretentiousness). I had a journalism student, writing about the cheerleaders for the paper, write that they 'ampt up their routines'. This failed the spelling and editorial checks and I asked her about it. She said, 'Yeah, you know; like to amp it up.' 

This-- I discerned-- was (then, 2002) slang usage for 'amplified' (after which you wouldn't use up anyway). I said, 'Then spell it correctly.' --meaning 'amped'. 

She thought the '-t' ending made words look more intelligent (really?) and must have seen that the ampt really didn't look or work well at all, but stuck to her misconception. 

Unfortunately UK usage is falling under too much US influence and is becoming more of a mishmash than ever. For writers the best tactic is to gain a familiarity with the most formal and/or most educated British writers using standard written and edited English ('SWEE') and to learn from and perhaps emulate them.   I have the Prince of Wales' excellent 1984 architecture book A Vision Of Britain and determined that whatever usage the POW is using *must* be the *proper* form; so I tend to use that when it matters, such as in third-person/omniscient narration and in nonfiction.

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Asker's Rating:

5 out of 5

Asker's Comment:

All the answers were really useful and pointed out the difference between British and American English (didn't realise there were that many differences). Thanks Jonnie for the 'burnt toast rule' - it actually made things a lot clearer :) Thanks

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