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What’s the Past Tense of Burn? Burned or Burnt?

Burned and burnt are both past tenses of the verb "burn". British English prefers burnt, whereas American English uses burned.


What's the past tense of burn?
Which tense of ‘burn‘ correctly completes the sentence?




What’s the past tense of “burn”?

Both burned and burnt are correct past tenses of burn, which refers to a state or event when someone/something is on fire; or to destroy or injure someone/something by heat or fire.


  • British English uses burned and burnt both as the past tense and adjective forms.


  • US English uses burned as the past tense verb form; as an adjective, both burned and burnt are common.



Forms of the verb “burn”

presentpastfuture
simpleI burnI burned/burntI will burn
continuousI am burningI was burningI will be burning
perfectI have burned/burntI had burned/burntI will have burned/burnt
perfect continuousI have been burningI had been burningI will have been burning
12 verb tenses of ‘burn‘.



Is “burned”/”burnt” regular or irregular?

Burned takes the regular verb conjugation with the suffix “ed”. Burnt is the irregular verb form. Generally speaking, the difference in use depends on geography.


TenseSentence examples
Present tenseHe stood and watched the fire burn.
Present continuousA welcoming fire was burning in the fireplace.
Past tenseI burnt/burned the toast.
Future tense Fresh leaves will burn slowly with billows of smoke.
Past perfectHe had burnt all the documents before the police got there.  


Burn, which means “(of a fire) produce flames and heat while consuming a material such as coal or wood.”, has two accepted past tense and past participle forms: burnt and burned. Burnt obviously ends in something other than -ed, and so it’s treated as irregular in English. Burned, on the other hand, adheres to the standard rule of verb conjugation to the past tense and past participle form by adding -ed to the end.    



Other irregular verbs like “burn”

base verbpast tensepast participle
dreamdreamed/dreamt dreamed/dreamt
burnburned/burntburned/burnt
sleepsleptslept
leapleapt/leapedleapt/leaped
leanleant/leanedleant/leaned
smellsmelled/smelt smelt/smelled
Irregular verbs (two past tense conjugations).



Sentence example with “burn” (present tense)

Fresh leaves will burn slowly with billows of smoke. (future tense)

A welcoming fire was burning in the fireplace. (present continuous)

Don’t burn your bridges behind you.

He stood and watched it burn, feeling as if a part of him burned with it.

Tom burns both wood and coal in his stove. (third-person present singular)



Example sentences with burned/burnt (past tense)

This perfume smells like burnt cotton candy. (adjective)

I burned my hand on the stove yesterday.

He accidentally burned the cake while baking it.

The forest fire burned for several days before it was finally extinguished.

She burnt her hair while trying to light a candle.



Sentences with burnt/burned (past participle)

The toast was burnt to a crisp.

She had burnt her hand on the hot stove while getting dinner prepared.

The house had burnt down before the firefighters arrived.

He had burnt all the documents before the police got there.

She had been burnt before in the past, and didn’t want it to happen again.



Phrases with the word burn

phrasemeaning
to burn one’s bridges to do something that cannot be easily undone or reversed in the future.
brain-burned displaying the adverse effects of drug use, especially cognitive impairment.
slow burn a gradual development that increases in strength or power over time.
to be burned out to be tired/worn out from overwork.
burn (something or someone) to a cinder for something to be burned badly.
burn a hole in one’s pocket suggesting that the person with the money feels the need to spend it quickly.
burn notice said of something that’s being disavowed.
to burn one’s boats/bridges to squander one’s relationships/business connections.
burn some clock to use up some amount of time.
burn both ends of the candle to overwork yourself.
burn not your house to fright the mouse away don’t overreact to minor problems.
freezer burn said of food that’s been in the freezer for too long and it tastes bad.
burn the midnight oil to stay up late working on a task or project.
to fiddle while Rome burns to take little to no productive action during a crisis.
to have money to burn saying you have money to spend.



The etymology of burn

From etymology online on burn (v.):

early 12c., brennen, “be on fire, be consumed by fire; be inflamed with passion or desire, be ardent; destroy (something) with fire, expose to the action of fire, roast, broil, toast; burn (something) in cooking.”

Learn more about verbs

Sources  

  1. Grammarist.com, burnt/burned.
  2. Etymonline, burn.


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