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Learned or Learnt? What’s the Past Tense of Learn?

US English prefers learned as the past tense of learn. Learnt is the original past tense, and commonly accepted worldwide.

Learned or learnt? Shown in text conversation.
Forms of the verb ‘to learn‘ shown in conversation.

What’s the past tense of “learn”?

The short answer is that technically both learnt and learned are correct past tenses of the verb learn. Which is the correct choice on the individual level is a separate question, which we’ll address right now. Let’s learn more about it!

tenseexamples: tenses of “learn” in sentences
present tense The book is about how children learn.
past tense I learnt the poem by heart.
past participle I had learned a lot from my father growing up.

To learn, which is something we hopefully do every day, (and is something you’re doing right now by reading this article!) is when we “gain knowledge or skills by studying, from experience, from being taught, etc.”

‍Both are correct past tense and past participle verb forms, but US English prefers the standard past tense with an -ed, whereas UK English prefers the irregular verb form:

  • British English prefers learnt as both the past tense and past participle verb form.

  • American English prefers the regular verb form, learned, for the past tense and past participle form.

Verb forms of “learn”

simpleI learnI learnedwill learn
continuousI am learningI was learningI will be learning
perfectI have learnt/learnedI had learnt/learnedI will have learnt/learned
perfect continuousI have been learningI had been learningI will have been learning
Tenses of ‘learn’

Is learn a regular or irregular verb?

What makes regular and irregular verbs is:

Regular verbs end in –ed in their past tense and past participle forms. Irregular verbs end in something other than –ed in their past tense forms.

Learn, which means “to get knowledge or skill in a new subject or activity: they learn Russian at school“, has two accepted forms as its past tense and past participle: learnt and learned. Learnt is irregular because it ends in -t, not -ed; whereas learned clearly adheres to the regular rule of verb conjugation to the past tense by adding an -ed to the end. Here are other verbs in English that share two accepted past tense and past participle forms, just like learn. See the chart:

base verbpast tensepast participle
leanleant/leaned leant/leaned
dealdealt dealt

British English or American English: learnt vs learned

Which past tense form of learn to use depends on where you live. American English, thanks to Noah Webster (of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary), popularized learned as the standard past tense. By contract, UK English, which is the original form, prefers learnt. The same is true for other verbs that share the same pattern (i.e., spell, leap, lean, smell, and so on).

Examples of learn (present tense) in sentences

1. He had the opportunity to learn English in Australia.

2. The book is about how children learn.

3. He’s learning to play the trumpet. (present participle)

4. Everyone in the class had the opportunity to learn from each other.

5. Most people learn to read as children.

Examples of learned/learnt (past simple)

1. We only learnt who the new teacher was a few days ago.

2. Today we learnt how to use the new software.

3. I first learnt of his death many years later.

4. She received no training but quickly learnt on the job.

5. I learnt the poem by heart.

Examples of learned/learnt as a past participle

1. I had learned a lot from my father.

2. She learned from watching others.

3. He learned to ride when he was about three years old.

4. I’ve forgotten most of what I learned at school.

5. How did they react when they learned the news?

Origin of the word learn

From etymology online on learn (v.):

Old English leornian “to get knowledge, be cultivated; study, read, think about,” from Proto-Germanic *lisnojanan“.

Learn more about verbs


  1. Etymonline, learn.

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