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The difference between learnt and learned

3 min read
28 September 2021
Kaplan English school in Sydney - Photo Gallery 6

The difference between learnt and learned in English can be a tricky piece of grammar to get your head around. So, what makes them different? Let's take a closer look.


First of all, what does 'learn' actually mean?

The verb 'to learn' means to gain or acquire knowledge or information, either by study, experience or being taught. There are two different sub-meanings of 'learn':

  1. To memorize, to commit to memory 
    'I'm learning my lines for the school play.' 
  2. To become aware of something - either by gaining information or by observing 
    'I learned that her hair was actually blonde, not brown.'


What are some synonyms for 'learn'?

Instead of 'learn,' you could use: 

  • find out
  • discover 
  • memorize
  • become aware 

Remember those different sub-meaning of 'learn' and make sure you choose the appropriate synonym. For example, you wouldn't say, 'I'm discovering my lines for the school play,' you'd say 'I'm memorizing my lines for the school play'. Equally, you wouldn't say, 'I memorized that her hair was actually blonde, not brown,' you'd say, 'I discovered that her hair was actually blonde, not brown.'


So, what does 'learnt' mean?

'Learnt' or 'learned' are simply the past tense of the verb 'to learn'. Both 'learnt' and 'learned' mean the same thing, and they're both correct. Which one you use just depends on whether you are writing in British or American English. 

  • 'Learnt' = British English

    'I learnt French in school.'

  • 'Learned' = American English

    'I learned French in school.'


However, there is an exception to the rule

There are some situations where 'learned' is the only correct option. 'Learned' (pronounced 'LER-ned', not 'lernd' like the verb) is also an adjective which means very well educated. For example, 'The professor is a very learned man.' 

This use of 'learned' is fairly old-fashioned, so it's not something people use often anymore. You'll probably only come across this in novels and academic reading, but it's still useful to know. 


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