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Is the past tense for the word "earn" "earned" or "earnt", and does the word "earnt" even exist?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

According to the Wiktionary, "earnt" is correct but not common:

This is an uncommon (<0.5% as common as earned in the British National Corpus) but entirely acceptable alternative form of the simple past and past participle earned. Still considered to be incorrect by many, who are largely unaware of the historical development of the English language.

"Earned" is much more common. The Merrian-Webster online dictionary doesn't even have an entry for "earnt". The entry for "earned" is here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/earned

According to the same Wictionary page,

Other verbs which can be conjugated in this way are: learn (learnt), dream (dreamt), spell (spelt).

But it should be noted that "learnt", "dreamt" and "spelt" are more common than "earnt". See comments below.

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Er, "learnt and "spelt" are still perfectly common in non-American usage. –  ShreevatsaR Sep 21 '10 at 11:06
    
@ShreevatsaR - yeah, but notice that this doesn't contradict what the Wikitionary says. It says that "earnt" is uncommon. –  b.roth Sep 21 '10 at 12:04
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Indeed. I agree that "earnt" is uncommon (and the passage is right); I was just afraid someone may think "learnt" or "spelt" were uncommon or considered incorrect. (BTW: According to the British National Corpus, "learnt" occurs between one-third to one-half as often as "learned", while "spelt" is about twice as common as "spelled".) –  ShreevatsaR Sep 21 '10 at 12:29
    
Ok, I just edited my post to clarify this. Thanks –  b.roth Sep 21 '10 at 12:46
    
The interesting thing about these is that the more common spelling with '–ed' reflects the way in which they SHOULD BE pronounced according to the phonetics, but that the less common spelling with '–t' reflects the way they ARE pronounced. –  Barrie England Nov 27 '11 at 8:22
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Yes, "earnt" is common in Australian English (and is probably common in other areas as well).

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No offense meant, but to add perspective: in American English it sounds quaint and hillbilly-ish. Probably because some very old English constructs are still used in the Appalachian mountains. Just like using "naught" to literally mean "zero" (as opposed to using it rather poetically to mean "nothing", as in "We did it all for naught.") –  Wayne May 17 '11 at 15:32
    
@Wayne, ‘nothing’ is the original meaning of ‘nought’. A literal zero is a later sense. The word is a contraction of what was in Old English ne ā wiht ‘not aye (a) whit’ (‘aye’ here in the sense ‘ever’ still common in Scotland, as in for aye ‘forever’). –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 6 at 14:01
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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 14 '12 at 9:39

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