Thursday, January 3, 2013

Writing 101: So is it Burned, or Burnt?

I'm convinced that irregular verbs exist only to annoy writers. They always show up at the most inopportune times, right when you're in the zone and your fingers are flying. One moment, your creativity is pouring out of you. The next, you're staring at the word burned and wondering if it ought to be burnt instead.

Verbs, Adjectives, Words That Don't Make Sense

The verb to burn is irregular. It has two past tenses: burned, and burnt. When something is burned, it's been scorched by heat and/or flame. Your skin may get burned by the sun or even hot water.  Burned is easy to use, because it's an example of classic past tense. Just add ed to burn, and you're ready to go.

You could always add a t instead. Then, the word becomes burnt. When something is burnt, it's been scorched by heat and/or flame. Your skin may get burnt by the sun or even hot water.

No need to check that twice. Burned and burnt mean exactly the same thing, and they are often used interchangeably. Burned is a bit more common in North American writing, while burnt appears a bit more frequently on the other side of the pond. Burnt can also be used as an adjective, for example: 

"What color is that?"
"Burnt orange." 

It sounds a little more cumbersome to say burned orange, so burnt is more commonly used. But when you're using verbs, burned or burnt will do just as well.

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