Friday, 12 October 2012

Stirring a linguistic hornets nest

Detail hornets' nest opened up and being rebui...


I've never really given this a lot of thought, but during a 'lessons learnt' training course I ran today, someone asked me why I used the word 'learnt' rather than 'learned'.
My assumption has been that the former was the British English pronunciation and spelling, the latter American English.

It seems that grammatically, this is not the case, although you will almost never see or hear 'learnt' used by an American. 

OK, the correct / purist definition is as follows (deep breath...)

English (as in Queen's English):
"learned": a present participle that performs the role of an adjective by qualifying a following noun.
"learnt": a past participle that performs the role of a adjective by qualifying a noun.

These words will be participles only if used along with a helping verb, also called an auxiliary verb like "to be" or "to have". If used without an auxiliary verb, there is a possibility that the word "learnt" is actually a verb and not a participle. This depends entirely upon the sentence structure.
Both these words are derived from the infinitive of the verb "to learn". While "learned" refers to a current state of acquired knowledge of the accusative noun, in this case the the noun following the word "learned"; the word "learnt" refers to a past incident that caused the accusative noun to become aware of something or gain some knowledge.


Got that? This is all a little dense and pedantic, so my simple justification for using 'learnt' is that you wouldn't use 'meaned' rather than 'meant'. 
Go argue.

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