Burned or Burnt? (Present vs Past Tense)

If you are a stickler for grammar, then you know using the wrong tense is a major no-no. Changing the verb tense incorrectly can completely change the meaning of a sentence and confuse your audience. Take the word “burned” for example. Was the wood “burnt” or “burned”? In this post, we’ll teach you exactly how to choose between burned or burnt.

Which Should You Use – Burned or Burnt?

Man thinking if he has burned toast or burnt toast

Both of these words are technically correct past tense versions of burn. However, there is a slight difference. Just like when comparing the phrases “you’re welcome & your welcome” or even ladle or ladel, small spelling changes make a real difference.

  • Burned – More common in American English
  • Burnt – More common in British English

How To Use Burned

The verb burn means to produce flames & heat [3]. Adding -ed, forming burned, makes the verb past participle vs past tense.

Burned is the more common past tense form of the verb burn in the US. For example, you might say “I stood too close to the fire and burned my leg.” Remember, there are several types of verbs such as linking verbs and action verbs that you need to understand.

The data clearly shows that burned has been the most common form of these two words in American English.

Takeaway: Burned is most commonly used in American English.

How To Use Burnt

There is no doubt that the English language is full of similar words like I or Me & Who or Whom. This can make things tricky. The next time you’re describing something as being “on fire” in the past tense, try using the word “burnt”. It is used the same as the past tense verb “burned” in a sentence.

Here are some other examples of when you can use the word “burnt”:

  • When your food is overcooked and dry, you can say it’s “burnt.”
  • When you’ve been out in the sun for too long and your skin is red and painful, you can say you’re “burnt.”
  • When you accidentally touch a hot stove, you can say you’re “burnt.”

Takeaway: Burnt is most commonly used in British English.

Adjective Form

“Burnt and Burned” can also be used as an adjective to describe a noun. Specifically, it means that the noun is overcooked or heated too much. Just like with the adjectives, engrained vs ingrained, the spelling can change depending on where you live!

Here are some examples of how to use this adjective correctly in a sentence.

  • Burnt toast is my favorite.”
  • “I hate burnt cookies.”
  • “I was very upset that my chef served my burnt pizza.”

Noun Form

The words burnt and burned can also be used to create a noun. For example, burnt orange, burnt umber, and burnt sienna are different shades of a reddish brown color. Just like the words “a hour vs an hour“, the words burnt and burned are very similar.

  • “I painted the sky burnt orange.”

Sentence Examples

Here are some examples of how to use burnt and burned correctly in sentences.

  • “I burnt my hand on the stove.”
  • “The fire burned for hours before it was finally extinguished.”
  • “The sun burned down on us mercilessly.”
  • “The patrons were upset that the chef burnt the pizza crust.”

Just like we learned in our post about the word easyer vs easier, it is important to proofread your spelling and word choice.

How To Make Verb Past Tense

To make a verb past tense, you simply add “-ed” to the end of the word. For example, the present tense verb “walk” becomes the past tense verb “walked.” Think of phrases “he has risen or he is risen“. He has risen is past tense.

However, there are many verbs in English that do not follow this simple rule. For example, the verb “read” becomes the irregular verb “read,” and the verb “write” becomes the irregular verb “wrote.” These verbs are called irregular verbs, and they must be memorized in order to be used correctly.

Here are some other commonly used irregular verbs:

  • Fall
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Become
  • Know

Takeaway: To make a common verb into past tense, simply add -ed.

Past Tense Vs Past Participle

We all know that the past tense is used to describe events that have already happened. But what about the past participle?

Technically, the past participle is a specific verb form that is used in conjunction with the past tense. For example, the regular verb “walk” becomes “walked” in the past tense, but “walked” is also the past participle form.

This means that you can use “walked” as an adjective (e.g., “The walked dog was very tired”) or as part of a compound verb (e.g., “I have walked the dog”).

Takeaway: So, while the past tense and past participle are both used to describe events that have already happened, the past participle has a bit more flexibility in terms of its usage.

Popularity & Trends

By reviewing Google’s Ngram Viewer you can see how frequently the words burnt and burned are used in published writing. “Burnt” has been the more popular word choice for the last 200 years. However, “burned” has appeared more frequently in published writing since the early 1900s. However, just like we saw in our analysis of the words lense and lens, popularity can quickly change!

FAQs – Burnt or Burned

Q: Is it burnt or burned UK?

“Burnt” is more popular in British English but you’ll still hear people say “burned” occasionally. In American English, “burned” is the preferred term. So it really depends on where you’re from when it comes to choosing between these two words.

Q: Is it burnt out or burned out?

Both are acceptable past tense forms of the verb “burn.” To be “burned out” or “burnt out” means to have reached your limit, usually from overwork or stress. Both forms are considered to be the correct spelling.

Q: Had burnt vs burned?

Both “had burnt” and “had burned” are correct past tense forms of the verb “burn.” “BURNT” is generally used in British English while “BURNED” is more common in American English. Both forms are perfectly acceptable in either variety of English.

Q: What does burnt out mean?

The term “burnt out” is often used to describe someone who is exhausted, both mentally and physically. It can be used to describe someone who is struggling with stress, depression, or anxiety. Burnout can also be caused by working too many hours, chronic stress, or eating a poor diet.

Q: What is the past perfect tense of burn?

Burnt or burned” is the past perfect tense of burn. These two forms are both acceptable and considered grammatically correct. However, if you are an English speaker from the US, you should use “burned” more frequently.

Q: What is the present tense of burned?

The present participle of burned is “burning“. For example, instead of saying that “That’s a burned marshmallow”, you could say “That mushroom is burning”.

Q: Is burnt formal?

Burnt primarily functions as the simple past tense form of burned. It is not considered to be more formal than burned. In fact, if you live in the US you are better off using burned. Burnt is a past tense verb of the word burn.

Q: Is burnt a British word?

Burnt and burned are both past tense forms of burn in the English language. Burnt is primarily used in British English & burned is primarily used in American English. However, since the sixteenth century both burned and burnt are considered acceptable forms of the past tense and past participle of burn.

The Bottom Line

Now you know the difference between these two commonly confused words: burned and burnt. Remember that burnt is the past tense that is used to speak about an action that has already happened. If you’re having trouble, consider checking out our comparison of prowritingaid vs Grammarly for more help! Use these tips to avoid mistaking these commonly confused words in your writing and speech.