“Burnt” vs. “Burned”: The Answers To Your Burning Questions About Their Difference

Quick summary

Both burned and burnt are correct forms of the past tense and past participle of the verb burn. Burnt is the one that’s typically used as an adjective, as in I don’t like burnt toast.

Does burnt always mean the same thing as burned? Is it burnt out or burned out? And why do some verbs form their past tense by adding a -t at the end?

In this article, you’ll get the answers to these and all your burning questions about burned and burnt.

Is it burned or burnt?

Both burned and burnt can be used as the past tense and past participle forms of the verb burn. In both cases, they can be used interchangeably.

Here’s an example of burned and burnt being used in the past tense: Sorry, I burned/burnt the toast. 

A past participle form of a verb can be used to form the present perfect verb tense (have burned/burnt) or the past perfect verb tense (had burned/burnt) or as an adjective (in which case burnt is usually used).

Here’s an example of burned and burnt being used in present perfect form: I have burned/burnt dinner yet again! 

And here’s an example in past participle form: I started smelling smoke before I realized I had burned/burnt a hole in the cloth. 

burned and burnt as adjectives

When the past participle of burn is used as an adjective, the form burnt is the most common choice, as in burnt toast or That smells like burnt rubber. Burned is also sometimes used as an adjective, but in some cases it may indicate a separate slang sense related to getting cheated on a deal or insulted (often jokingly).

Is it burned out or burnt out?

The verb phrase burn out has a few common meanings. It can mean “to become or cause to become worn out or inoperative” (like what happens to light bulbs) or “to become or cause to become exhausted through overwork” (as in If you keep working this many hours, you’re going to burn out). The noun form of this is burnout.

For both senses, the past tense, past participle, and adjective forms can be either burned out or burnt out. For example:

  • The light bulb just burned out/burnt out.
  • We need to throw out all these burned out/burnt out light bulbs.
  • I’m feeling very burned out/burnt out at work.
  • So many of your employees burned out/burnt out because your expectations are too high.

When the phrase is used to describe something that has been destroyed or heavily damaged by fire, the form burned out is often used, as in burned out houses.

Is burnt regular or irregular? 

The past tense and past participle of most verbs are formed by adding -ed or -d to the end of the root form of the verb—as is done when forming burned from burn. Verbs whose past and past participles follow this general rule are called regular verbs, whereas verbs that don’t act this way are called irregular verbs.

Learn more about irregular verbs with our comprehensive guide.

Though burnt is sometimes considered to be an irregular form, adding -t to form the past tense or past participle follows the same pattern as adding -ed—without the more drastic spelling changes seen in irregular verbs, such as when catch changes to caught.

But burnt isn’t the only verb that ends this way.

Examples of -t in past tense and past participle forms

The use of -t when forming past tense or past participle is thought to be influenced in part by speech patterns (meaning that, in some cases, the dominant form likely emerges simply because it’s easier to say).

Some verbs that add a -t instead of -ed or -d add it directly to the end of the word without any other spelling change.

Examples: burn becomes burnt; dream becomes dreamt; learn becomes learnt

Sometimes, though, the spelling and vowel sound in the middle of the word can change along with the ending.

Examples: feel becomes felt; sleep becomes slept

Some verbs only use the -t form in their past and past participle forms.

Examples: creep becomes crept; sleep becomes slept; weep becomes wept; keep becomes kept

Note that some -ed forms, such as sleeped and keeped, are never used and are considered incorrect.

In other cases, both the -ed and -t forms of a verb are used.

Examples: burned and burnt; dreamed and dreamt; learned and learnt; kneeled and knelt; smelled and smelt

Sometimes, both forms are used with relatively similar frequency, as in the case of burned and burnt. In other cases, one of the two forms may be much less commonly used than the other. For example, kneeled is much less commonly used than knelt, and learnt is much less commonly used than learned (particularly in American English).

Check how much you have learned with our quiz

Now that you’ve had the chance to brush up on how and when burned and burnt are used, take our quiz on these two forms of the past tense of burn. You may surprise yourself with how quickly you burn through the questions with what you’ve learned!

Who knows the difference between "who" and "whom"? We do! Read our explainer here.

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