'Spelt' or 'Spelled': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on December 27, 2022

If you're wondering whether you should use 'spelt' or 'spelled' in your writing, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll learn the difference between the two and when to use which.

In short, 'spelt' and 'spelled' are both acceptable in British English, whereas only 'spelled' is correct in American English.

'Spelt' or 'Spelled' - What Does it Mean?

Firstly, let's discuss the meaning of the word. 'Spelt' and 'spelled' are both past indefinite or past participle tenses of the verb 'to spell.'

The primary meaning of the verb 'to spell' is to name or write the letters of a word in the correct order.

But it can also be synonymous with "to signify."

You can also pair the verb' spell' with 'out' to make the verb' spell out.' which means to explain in simple terms.

The conjugation is the same in all three cases, and the same spelling rules apply.

The thing with verbs is that they can be either regular or irregular, which will affect how you conjugate them.

Regular verbs always take the ending -ed in the past tense. For example:

  • Play → played
  • Fix → fixed
  • Realise → Realized

In British English, 'spell' takes on both the regular ending ('spelled') and an irregular one ('spelt') when used in the past indefinite or past participle.

In American English, 'spell' is a regular verb and a regular verb only, which is why 'spelled' is the only correct conjugation.

When to Use 'Spelt'

So as we've covered, you should only use 'spelt' if you're based in the United Kingdom (or any country where they conventionally use British English spellings) or if you're writing for a British audience.

Although, there is one exception, and that's when using 'spelt' as a noun. That's a type of wheat, and the spelling 'spelt' is universal. But in this article, I'm referring only to the spelling of the verb 'to spell.'

Here are some examples of the verb 'spelt' in a sentence:

The verb' spell' is spelt differently depending on which country you're located in.

Barry knew he'd dodged a bullet: turning in his assignment late spelt disaster.

She was annoyed to see he had once again misspelt her name.

As you can see in the final example, the same spelling applies to the verb 'misspell,' which means to spell something incorrectly.

When to Use 'Spelled'

Knowing when to use 'spelled' is pretty straightforward since you can pretty much use it in any situation, provided that it's the past indefinite or participle that's required in the particular context. You can use it in British English as well as American English.

Use 'spelled' in the same situations that you would use 'spelt:' when using the verb' spell' to talk about how a word is written or the meaning of something.

Again, both 'spelt' and 'spelled' are acceptable in British English, but only 'spelled' is accepted in American English.

Here are some examples of 'spelled' used in a sentence:

It made my day when you spelled my name right; people always misspell it.

She didn't understand what he meant and needed it spelled out for her.

As soon as he heard the speech, he knew it spelled out doom for the entire country.

In case you're wondering: yes, you could take the examples above and swap the verb 'spelled' for 'spelt,' and it would be correct in British English.

Summary for 'Spelt' or 'Spelled'

Hopefully, this article has helped clarify the correct spelling for you, and you can now feel confident that you'll use the correct one in your writing.

And speaking of spelling, head to our blog if you want to learn to spell tricky English words. We have written tons of articles that can help you.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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