Before reading on or looking it up, which word would you use: earnt or earned? After posting Note 354 yesterday, spellchecker made me consider changing the word earnt to earned and I was in two minds whether to or not, so left it. I assumed that earned and earnt were two forms of the past tense of the verb to earn, like learnt/learned (see Note 89), spelled/spelt and burned/burnt. I also assumed that earnt was British English and earned was American English.
After a little digging around today, it’s not that simple and I’m considering changing the word in yesterday’s post to earned (I know some of my American readers will prefer this spelling anyway – ha ha).
It surprised me that the word earnt is not in the following dictionaries, whereas learnt and burnt are:
- Cambridge Dictionary (online)
- Oxford Dictionaries (online)
- Merriam-Webster online Dictionary
- Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus (hardback)
None of my grammar and punctuation books mention earnt either. Wiktionary say that earned is the “standard US spelling” and that earnt is the UK version, but rarely used. So, what do the forums say?
There are mixed messages on the various online forums, some saying that earnt is ‘old English’ and earned is the more common spelling these days. Erik Van Theinen, a top contributor on Yahoo Answers says that “in British English there is a stronger preference for the ‘-t’ form when it is used as a participial adjective, as in ‘The cakes are burnt’ as distinct from ‘We burned the cakes'”. He goes on to say “‘Earnt’ is not standard, but is increasingly found”.
My thoughts: I will continue with my research, but generally it appears that it’s acceptable to use either earnt or earned as the past tense in British English, but earned is more popular. As for American English, it’s always earned. Putting my accounting hat on, we talk about earned income (not earnt income) at work and that’s accepted by all. As always, the key is to be consistent with what you use. Although I used earnt as the past tense in yesterday’s post, I am now going to change it to earned as it sounds more correct and that’s the word I will use going forward.
Additional useless information: aren’t is an anagram of earnt (source Wiktionary.org)
11 days to go on My Writing Challenge…
- Note 311 – Travelling v traveling (mywritingnotebook.com)
- Note 279 – Comparing centre and center (mywritingnotebook.com)