In the following sentence, should I say spelled or spelt:

You spelt/spelled "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" wrong.

  • 3
    Something about reading "Spelt" makes me shudder. Feb 7, 2011 at 16:29
  • 1
    I would say "spelt" but write "spelled" - may just be me.
    – neil
    May 21, 2011 at 22:10
  • 1
    -1 for... drat, I've been spelling it wrong my whole life.
    – krs013
    Mar 19, 2014 at 16:29
  • It's not usual to introduce non-sentential / non-sentence fragment quotes with a capital. Apr 8, 2015 at 18:51
  • 1

7 Answers 7


From Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

spell (FORM WORDS) /spel/ verb [I or T] spelled or UK AND AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH ALSO spelt, spelled or UK AND AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH ALSO spelt

This means that you should say "spelled" in US English and you can use both "spelt" and "spelled" in UK/Australian English.

  • 3
    Yes, although "spelled" exists in UK/Australian English as well. Nov 27, 2010 at 10:17
  • It's funny how people say US but almost always mean North America, since they need to include Canadians in most of these things, and although Canadians are quite easy-going, they don't much cater to being called American.
    – tchrist
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:35
  • @tchrist we also spell defence and colour differently ^.^
    – Cruncher
    Nov 15, 2013 at 16:09
  • 4
    Actually, in this context, @tchrist US is the correct usage. Canadians have always spelt spelt correctly. Mar 10, 2016 at 6:02
  • 4
    @TamsynMichael: By saying “Canadians have always spelt spelt correctly.” you risk starting a flame war.  Better to go for the trifecta and say “Canadians have always spelt spelt spelt.” ⁠  (Buffalo buffalo buffalo …   :-)   ⁠ Aug 14, 2016 at 4:50

Spelled vs spelt:

  • In American English, spelt primarily refers to the hardy wheat grown mostly in Europe, and the verb spell makes spelled in the past tense and as a past participle.

  • In all other main varieties of English, spelt and spelled both work as the past tense and past participle of spell, at least where spell means to form words letter by letter or (with out) to make clear. Outside the U.S., the two forms are interchangeable in these uses, and both are common.

  • But when spell carries the sense to temporarily relieve (someone) from work, spelled is the preferred form throughout the English-speaking world. This is a minor point, though, as this sense of spell is rarely used outside the U.S., where it is most common.

  • Spelled is not a recent Americanism as many people assume (including some who have commented on this post). Both spelled and spelt are old, and examples of each are easily found in historical Google Books searches covering the 17th and 18th centuries. It is true, however, that spelt was ascendant everywhere through most of the 19th century. This ended when Americans permanently settled on spelled around 1900.



I believe the Guardian and Observer Style Guide has a better answer than just “it's different between US / UK / AUS”:

spelled is the past tense

“she spelled it out for him”


spelt is the past participle

“the word is spelt like this”

  • In what way is this a better answer? It seems to contradict other, less prescriptive, answers. Perhaps it's over-prescriptive (and 'worse'). // Style guides give recommendations, often not the only ones available. Feb 6, 2021 at 12:59

According to WordReference.com and the Concise oxford English Dictionary, both forms are correct.

spell: verb (past and past participle spelled or chiefly British spelt)


This verb has both an irregular and regular form. You can use both and both are correct. Speakers in North America and Canada use spelled while the rest of the English-speaking world seems to prefer spelt but accept spelled as well. enter image description here But which is the most used one, spelt or spelled? Let´s look at Google Ngram Viewer tool which displays a graph showing how phrases have occurred in a corpus of books over the years. Spelled is more used than Spilt from 1890.

Source: https://en.learniv.com/info/en/irregular-verbs/spelled-or-spelt-what-is-correct-and-how-to-use-it/ enter image description here

  • Hello, Diana. Sadly, if one checks, one finds that these Google 1-grams show a raw 'spelled' v 'spelt' comparison, making no allowance for past simple v past participle usages, or for occurrences of the noun 'spelt'. And the corresponding (admittedly equally unrefined) ngrams when one selects Google's 'British English' corpus shows that here too 'spelt' seems on the decline, taking second place after about 1980. Feb 6, 2021 at 13:50

Mainly a correct British variant. In perhaps the best AmE dictionary:



spelled \ˈspeld, ˈspelt\ (audio pronunciation) or chiefly British spelt \ˈspelt\ (audio pronunciation) ; spelled or chiefly British spelt; spell·ing; spells

3 a : to name in order the letters of

Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary


h2g2 Writing Guidelines say

Please use the word spelled rather than spelt. There was a long-running discussion about it and 'spelled' won 10 votes to 8. Besides, loads of people thought that 'spelt' was a type of wheat. Schpelled and spellted were among the other suggestions. But no, you can't use them

  • Whose votes? Not mine! I was brought up in both England and Australia and during my schooling years it was 'spelt' and should remain as such ie I'm not about to change. Other such modern variances should remain.
    – user49993
    Aug 19, 2013 at 4:11
  • I thought of the grain too. Jan 21, 2014 at 16:04
  • Who on Earth are h2g2? Apr 7, 2015 at 21:37
  • 2
    I hope you realize 10 votes to 8 cannot be called a decisive victory. Apr 8, 2015 at 16:56
  • 2
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition Style Guide is perhaps not the most prestigious of such guides. Although it adds the nice touch of prefacing its arrogations-disguised-as-recommendations with 'please'. Apr 8, 2015 at 18:48

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.