Grammar Is it Spelt or Spelled |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Is it Spelt or Spelled

If you want to say how you ordered letters to form a word, would you express that you spelt the word or spelled it? For many of us, both versions might feel as if they are the same, so how can you choose the right one? We’ll address that for you here.

Should You Write Spelt or Spelled?

Let’s start with the quick answer. While both spelled and spelt can technically be correct, your answer will often depend on where you live.

  • In the United States, we tend to use spelled.
  • In the U.K. and Commonwealth countries, spelt is more common.

Both versions of the word refer to spell in the past tense. However, certain spellings and pronunciations within our shared language have diverged over time. This is why you may often hear and see spelt in U.K. English and spelled in U.S. English.

Note too that while either version could be correct depending on the dictionary you’re referring to, some stateside teachers and editors may identify spelt as a mistake. For this reason, you will typically be fine if you always use the conventional American spelling of spelled.

There is another use for the word spelt as well. In certain contexts, it can pertain to a kind of grain grown in Europe. It is unlikely, however, that you would encounter this usage in daily formal writing or speech unless you are employed in the agricultural industry.

Why Do We Have Different Words for the Past Tense of Spell?

Verb usage that differs from other English-speaking countries can appear throughout the U.S. There are really two factors at play. The first is that North America is separated from other parts of the world by geography and generations. The people who arrived speaking languages such as English and French—themselves combinations of older languages such as Latin and Greek—developed their own speech habits. They also gained words from native populations and other cultures.

In addition, irregular verbs are common in English. That’s why, as yet another example, you might find yourself wondering whether hanged or hung is correct for the past tense and past participle of hang.

When you run into these questions of American spelling, the best way through them is to become increasingly familiar with the language’s irregular verbs. You can accomplish this by reading and writing American English and referring to resources for irregular verbs when you think you’ve encountered one.

Your Next Grammar Lesson Awaits

With the difference between spelt and spelled now established, you can continue your quest for precision in American English in other ways of interest to you. Review some of our recent posts and browse our expansive archive of topics. You can also ask a question or leave a suggestion in the comments below.

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