Learned vs learnt

November 9, 2012

Based on a writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


This week’s writing tip is the result of a question that Michael asked – is it ‘lessons learned’ or ‘lessons learnt’? Good question, Michael!

Bottom line:

  • Use your main dictionary authority for guidance (Macquarie Dictionary is our [project] authority, and it only uses ‘learnt’ as the past tense of the verb ‘learn’)
  • Know your audience – are they predominantly American (‘learned’) or Australian (‘learnt’)?
  • ‘Lessons learnt’ is the correct form for documents that will predominantly be read by Australian readers.

The issue of using ‘t’ or ‘ed’ as the past tense ending of certain verbs is a curly one, and tends to divide according to whether you were taught British/Australian (‘t) or US (‘ed’) English. Some examples of these irregular verb form endings include ‘burned’/‘burnt’, ‘spelled’/’spelt’, ‘dreamed’/’dreamt’, ‘spilled’/’spilt’, and the one that we use most often in our documents – ‘learned’/’learnt’.

Macquarie Dictionary has this to say about ‘learnt’ and ‘learned’:

‘learnt’: verb a past tense and past participle of learn


adjective 1. having much knowledge gained by study; scholarly: a group of learned scholars.

2. of or showing learning.

3. (applied as a term of courtesy to a member of the legal profession): my learned friend.

Note: Macquarie Dictionary has NO definition for ‘learned’ as a verb, irregular or otherwise.

So, for documents that will predominantly be read by Australian readers, ‘lessons learnt’ is the correct form.

See also:

[Links last checked November 2012]

One comment

  1. […] dictionary itself isn’t online in a full and free form, but KM also pointed to this blog post quoting from the dictionary in a discussion of this very […]

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