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More out of curiosity than anything, when would one use "burnt" and when would "burned" be appropriate? For example,

This coffee tastes burnt.

This coffee tastes burned.

or

They burnt the coffee again.

They burned the coffee again.

Does it make a difference? I know when I speak either phrase they sound almost indistinguishable (my "t"s do not always sound sharp and come across like "d"s at times); can they be used interchangeably?

[ As an aside, the problem with the coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts is what prompted the whole curiosity about this :) ]

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I'd say "burnt toast", but "they burned the toast". FWIW, I've never encountered "burned" as an adjective, or "burnt" as a verb. –  user730 Dec 13 '10 at 14:17
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It seems the same question is being asked repeatedly on this site in many variants: learnt vs learned, spelt vs spelled, and Dreamed vs. Dreamt, Leaped vs. Leapt, Lighted vs. Lit. –  ShreevatsaR Dec 13 '10 at 14:19
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@J.M. Nor have I; "burnt" is the adj., and "burned" is the past tense of the verb "burn", but as I mentioned, they sound so similar. Could it be that they have been used in the wrong context, and so much so that it has become accepted in common conversation? –  Will Dec 13 '10 at 14:22
    
I'm not sure if this is the case, but it seems to me as if burned is a past tense verb, while burnt is an adjective. At least, it sounds better that way to me. –  user59647 Dec 13 '13 at 4:41

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

They are both used as the past tense of burn.

In American English, burned is used much more frequently than burnt. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English, a search for burned returns more than 5 times more results than a search for burnt (11558 for burned vs. 2005 for burnt). Note that in combination with certain nouns, burnt is actually what is in general used: "burnt ivory", "burnt cobalt", "burnt orange", "burnt yellow", "burn toast", "burnt smell", etc.

alt text (For complete table use the compare tool between burned and burnt in the COCA.)

In British English, hovewer, they seem to be used with more similar frequency. In the British National Corpus, a search for burned returns 1435 results and a search for burnt returns 1252 results. Unlike American English, there are many occurrences of burnt as a verb too (e.g. "And I burnt them").

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Your search does not distinguish between the verb and the adjective, right? So it's not much help in deciding which one is the more common adjective (or verb). –  ShreevatsaR Dec 13 '10 at 16:51
    
@ShreevatsaR - that's correct, good point. I've updated my answer to show what words appear more often next to burned and burnt. Notice that as an adjective, burnt seems to be used more often. –  b.roth Dec 13 '10 at 16:57
    
In Australian English burnt is almost always the past tense and adjective. Some people might write it as burned, however, due to the final /t/ being realised as a glottal stop and people believing it to be a 'lazy d'. However I can assure you this is an underlying /t/. –  Ledda Dec 13 '13 at 7:07

Burnt toast is easier to say than 'burned toast'. And some things said simply become the more commonly accepted way to say it and I think that's the case with 'burnt toast'.

There is also a shadow of some mountain regions of the South, of dialects of British English, of 'folk speech' in the word 'burnt' and others like it. My father in everyday discourse would say burned, dreamed, spelled but when with his brothers and mountain-raised Scot-Irish father would only say 'burnt, dreamt, and spelt as in 'Remember when Jim took the prize because he spelt so well?"

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By "the South", do you mean the Southern United States? Or South England? (Or even the South of the British Isles, presumably England?) Or South of some other country altogether? It's confusing especially since you mention Scot-Irish… please don't make assumptions, and specify what dialect your answer applies to. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Dec 13 '10 at 17:39
    
@ShreevatsaR it's a bit less confusing when they say "Scot-Irish", if you know that that's an American English term for Americans of Ulster-Scots descent. –  Jon Hanna Nov 26 '13 at 17:01

The simple past and past participle of burn is either burned or burnt.

In addition, burnt also functions as an adjective to describe something as being damaged, injured, or made black from burning, a meaning slightly different from it being used as a participial adjective.

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but you can also say "the burned paper" –  Claudiu Dec 13 '10 at 14:59
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You can use past-tense regular verbs ("-ed" construction) to form adjectives in any case. "This is hallowed ground." "You're looking at manipulated data." "My car has heated seats." There is nothing wrong with saying "burned toast" even though it may be more common to say "burnt toast" where you live. –  Robusto Dec 13 '10 at 15:16
    
I wonder if the inevitability of "burnt toast" (in whichever variety/context Jasper was referring to) has something to do with the sound: "burnt toast" has two unvoiced consonants adjacent and seem easier to say. –  ShreevatsaR Dec 13 '10 at 16:35

It depends on the situation being described. If I came across something which had been subject to a burning I would say that it was burnt, where "burnt" describes the state of something which had been burned, but if I witnessed the burning I would say that I saw it being burned.

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Hi, and welcome to ELU. Please support your answers with sources. They make your answers stronger, and more likely to be viewed as correct. Otherwise it's only an opinion. The site tour and the help center will give you guidance on how to use this site. –  medica Dec 5 at 14:24

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