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What’s the Past Tense of Spell? Spelled or Spelt?

Unless referring to the ancient and hulled wheat, the past tense of the verb spell is spelt and spelled.

Last updated on February 11th, 2024 at 06:50 am

Forms of the verb 'spell' in conversation.
Forms of the verb ‘spell‘ in conversation.



What’s the past tense of “spell”?

Spelt and spelled are two different spellings of the past tense of spell. The verb spell describes the action of writing or saying the letters of a word in the correct order.

Both are correct past tense forms, but whether to use spelt or spelled mostly depends on if you’re writing in UK English or American English:

  • US English prefers spelled, which uses the regular verb form of ending in -ed.


  • UK English accepts spelled and spelt. Spelt is an irregular verb form since it doesn’t end in -ed in the past tense.

Meanings of “spell” (as a noun or verb)

The word and verb spell is a homophone in English, which are words that have more than one meaning though they are pronounced the same. Apart from spell as a verb, the noun form of spell is understood as “a spoken word or form of words held to have magic power”.

Anyone familiar with the Harry Potter series knows that wizards and witches are taught to cast spells—this is the sense in which the noun spell is meant. Spelt can also refer to the hulled and ancient grain, spelt.

Forms of the verb spell

presentpastfuture
simpleI spellI spelt/spelledI will spell
continuousI am spellingI was spellingI will be spelling
perfectI have spelt/spelledI had spelt/spelledI will have spelt/spelled
perfect continuousI have been spellingI had been spellingI will have been spelling
Tenses of ‘spell‘.

1. To spell is the present tense: I can spell my name correctly.

2. Spells is third-person present singular: He spells difficult words without any mistakes.

3. Spelling is the present participle: I am spelling out the letters of the word for her to understand.

4. Will spell is the future tense: Tomorrow, I will spell check my essay before submitting it.

5. Spelled is the simple past: Yesterday, I spelled a long word properly.

6. Spelled/spelt is the past participle: I have spelled/spelt my name wrong on official documents before.

Spell belongs to the class of irregular verbs that have two verb conjugations altogether. Here’s a chart of other verbs like spell, that also have two verb forms in sum:

Verbs with two accepted past tense and past participles.
Verbs with two accepted past tense and past participle forms. By Gflex on Canva.

Examples of the word “spell” used in sentences

1. I have no have no idea how to spell that word.

2. I love how you spell your name!

3. How do you spell your surname?

4. C—A—T spells ‘cat’.

5. I’ve never been able to spell.

Sentences with “spelt”

1. The other remarkable aspect of Cotter’s life was his friendship with an aboriginal leader named Onyong, spelt in various ways. —The Sydney Morning Herald

2. The child spelt the word for the teacher.

3. I thought her name was Catherine, but it’s Kathryn spelt with a ‘K’.

4. The crop failure spelt disaster for many farmers.

5. You’ve spelt my name wrong.

Examples with “spelled” in sentences

1. ‘Nevaeh’ is ‘heaven’ spelled backwards/backward.

2. Should ‘internet’ be spelled with a capital or lower case i?

3. Is ‘necessary’ spelled with one ‘s’, or two?

4. The article spelled ‘survey’ as ‘servay’.

5. The title of Frank Ocean’s excellent and bizarre new release is spelled different ways in different official locations. —The Atlantic



Phrases with the word spell

  • To be under someone’s spell (to be magnetized or especially drawn to someone)
  • Come in and sit a spell (a way of inviting someone to come in and relax a while)
  • To cast a spell (literally to induce the effects of a magic spell on someone)
  • Cold spell (to describe a period of extremely cold weather)
  • Do I have to spell it out for you? (to have to explain something in the simplest of terms)
  • Spell disaster Fig (to indicate sign of impending trouble or disaster)
  • Dry spell (an extended period of time without rain)
  • Spell trouble (indicating that there’s impending trouble or doom)
  • You can’t spell (something) without (something else (“Said of a word or phrase that contains the letters of something else within it, used either to imply a connection between the two concepts or for purely humorous effect.”) – The Free Idiom Dictionary
  • Death by spell check (when you submit something to spell check and it reports tons of errors)



Origin of the word spell

From etymology online on spell (v.):

Early 14c., “read letter by letter, write or say the letters of;” c. 1400, “form words by means of letters,” apparently a French word that merged with or displaced a native Old English one; both are from the same Germanic root, but the French word had evolved a different sense. The native word is Old English spellian “to tell, speak, discourse, talk,” from Proto-Germanic *spellam‘.

Learn more about verbs

Sources  

  1. Oxford Learner’s, spell.
  2. Origin of the verb, spell.
  3. Wikipedia, spelt.
  4. Wikipedia, homophones.
  5. “Spell.” Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. 2015. Farlex, Inc 3 Nov. 2023 https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/spell

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