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Is It Burned or Burnt?

Overview of Burnt And Burned 

In the English language, there are many instances in which two words with slightly different spelling seem like they may fit a sentence. For example, many people get confused and interchangeably use burnt and burned without knowing the subtle differences. 

Read more about the differences between them and when you should use burned and burnt in your writing! 

What Does Burnt Mean?

In short, burnt usually acts as an adjective in American English. With this, it should only keep to this use, and trying to implement it in any other way can often lead to criticism. 

To help understand when to use burnt, try thinking of something like a marshmallow in a s’more. When you burn it, it increasingly gets darker and darker. After it gets dark and smoldering, you can describe it as burnt. In most cases, using burnt is as simple as that, referring to things that have been burnt/look burnt in nature. 

What Does Burned Mean?

Burned is used as the past tense of burn. This is where people often get mixed up and used burnt. However, that would be incorrect. 

Like burnt, thinking about stories and scenarios can help you understand when and how to use burned. For instance, if you burn some food you are cooking and are referring to it, later on, you could say that you burned the food. 

Distinctions Between Burned And Burnt 

In many dictionaries, both burned and burnt are often described as past tense forms of burn, so you may wonder why many people distinguish between them. This distinction comes from American English, which is the main dialect it is made in.  

Here are some examples of burned and burnt being used in sentences: 

  • I was trying to make too much food yesterday, and my rice was burned 
  • I was excited to try out the food, but when I got close, most of it looked burnt
  • After the firework went off, it burned some stacks of paper nearby 
  • Burnt-looking food is never appetizing to the average consumer 

When Should You Use Burned And Burnt 

In short, you should use burned in American English as the past tense form of burn only. Meaning that it describes that something was burning at one point. 

On the other hand, burnt in American English should only be used as the adjective in a sentence, describing something that appears to have been burning. 

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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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