JS Tip 128: From the Writing Workshops: “Burned” and “Burnt”

Jane Holding of Wells Fargo asked us to look at “burned” and “burnt.”

She asked, “What’s the difference, and when should we use each word?”

Great question.

“Burned” and “burnt” are an example of the changes in the language. Of the “modernization” of the language.

English is filled with (what English teachers call) “irregular” verbs. Verbs (action words) that just popped into the language. The people using them just used them. They didn't care if they were different from the usual constructions (the “regular” constructions).

Some examples:

         Dove          (Dived)
         Hung         (Hanged)
         Swam         (Uhh . . . we haven't really moved to “swimmed” yet.)

As English became more codified (as it added more rules), English teachers tried to line things up: “burnt” became “burned.”

So . . . either “burnt” or “burned” is correct. One is just an older usage than the other.

Keep asking questions. We love this stuff.