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Spelled or Spelt: What’s the Right Spelling?

Don’t be fooled by thinking one of these words is a spelling mistake. Interestingly enough, spelled and spelt are two spellings of the same word. They act as the past tense form of the verb spell. Although both are correct, they have a dialect bias and are usually only used within specific dialects of English.

Let’s talk about their differences and how you can use them in sentence examples.

  • Both spelled and spelt are commonly used in British English. With this in mind, spelt is more prolific and unique to British English. 
  • Spelled is the only acceptable term in American English dialects. 

To contextualize this, countries in North America, such as the United States, use US English dialects. In contrast, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and sometimes Canada use forms of British English. In other words, aside from America, the rest of the English-speaking world uses both spellings. 

A graphic explaining the difference between spelt and spelled

Origin of Spelt and Spelled 

It may be helpful to understand how these two spellings arose to understand their origin. Most sources can track the words back to old English, specifically adapted from the late Latin spelta, meaning “chip.”

Thus, especially as people moved around in the 17th century, the word likely began to change and become popular in some places. 

Examples of Both Spellings: 

The Economist: 

This week, the Security Council spelt out that the oil could indeed be sold when the weapons were gone, and could not be remade in the future; America is also said to have privately reassured Unscom on this point.

Los Angeles Times:

When he was retired, he went to live in Nebraska and was often honored at the state’s main race track, Ak-Sar-Ben, which is Nebraska spelled backward.

Past Participles Concerning Spelt and Spelled 

Another interesting thing to note with these two words is their ability to morph traditional grammar rules. Simply put, regular verbs form past participles by adding the suffix “-ed” to the end. Likewise, irregular verbs are those with form past participles through other means. 

Due to this, when spelt is used in UK English, its origin word spell acts in an irregular form. Additionally, this is flipped when spelled is used, as the original word would be characterized as a regular verb. 

Negative Forms of Spelt and Spelled

Adding another layer of complexity to the conversation, misspelled and misspelt are two negative forms of spelled and spelt. Their usage indicates when someone spells something incorrectly. Like their normal forms, they follow the same dialect rules, meaning misspelled will be used in American contexts, and misspelt will be used in British contexts. 

Various Ways to Use Misspelt and Misspelled 

  • I misspelt a few words on my spelling test.
  • She was so nervous that she misspelled her name. 
  • I found a misspelling in your essay.
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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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