Grammar Burned vs. Burnt: Which Is Grammatically Correct? |
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Burned vs. Burnt: Which Is Grammatically Correct?

If you leave something in the oven for too long, it’s probably going to burn. That’s frustrating, but even worse is having to make a note about it later. Was your food burned, or was it burnt? What’s the distinction between the words?

In this quick post, we’ll discuss the differences between burned and burnt so you know which to use and when.

The Difference Between Burned and Burnt

Burn is a verb that means “to heat something excessively.” In some cases, it can also be used as a noun that describes the kind of injury you get from excessive heat.

Many American English speakers will understand that, but some may get confused when trying to separate burned and burnt. The words don’t mean the same exact thing.

Burned is the past tense of burn. If you need to describe the act of burning in the past, this is the correct word to use. Here are a couple of sentences with the proper application of burned:

Because I walked away to take a long phone call, I burned the muffins in the oven.

There weren’t any logs left for the fireplace after John burned them all during the snowstorm.

Note that burned is a past-tense verb. It describes an action that already took place.

Burnt, on the other hand, is an adjective. It’s a word that describes the state of something that has already been burned.

Here are a couple of sentences with burnt being used correctly:

The burnt candle was of little help during the power outage.

By the end of the cookout, we had nothing to serve except for burnt hamburgers.

Using Burnt and Burned Correctly

When you separate thing from action, you’ll recognize the primary difference. Burned refers to an action, whereas burnt is an adjective that refers to the condition of a thing. If you recall that guideline, you’ll always be able to use each of these words in the right way.

What makes them slightly challenging is that you can sometimes use either burned or burnt in the same sentence because their meanings are so close. Consider the following:

Carol saw the smoke and realized her steaks were burned.

Carol saw the smoke and realized her steaks were burnt.

Although the second usage is probably the better one—the sentence calls for an adjective more than a verb—either could be grammatically correct. After all, you could say that the steaks were in the process of being burned (an action).

In aiming to keep your sentences precise, just remember the subtleties between burned and burnt and watch for them where either word could apply.

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