Q&A: Spoilt for Choice?

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Each week, we take a look at a common confusions and ambiguities in the English language (that gives us about a century’s worth of material!) – making things easier through the power of friendly conversation. This week, a breakfast conundrum…

Q: Breakfast time! Oh no. I spilt some milk because it was spoilt. But have I spelt these correctly?
A: First up, well done on not crying over said milk spillage.

Q: Thank you, I was brave.
A: Short answer: in Australia, you’ve spelt everything correctly. And in doing so, you’ve highlighted three common “LT vs LLED” words.

Q: Oooh! Oooh! Teaching moment!
A: Indeed. Two are easy – with spilt/spilled and spelt/spelled variants, North America solely opts for the “LLED” and the rest of us tend to use “LT” (although we’re less strict than they are).

Q: So Americans wouldn’t even be asking whether it’s “spilt” or “spilled”?
A: That’s right. This question would never come up in the US because they don’t even think “spilt” is a word!

Q: OK, so here in Australia “LT” it is. But what about the spoiled/spoilt milk?
A: Once again, North America has spoiled everything by using “spoiled” for everything!

Q: They do seem to enjoy one rule for things. And the rest of us?
A: In UK/AUS/NZ, we seem to use “spoiled” for past tense (“I spoiled the milk yesterday”) but both options for past participles (such as “North America has spoiled everything” or “you’ve spoilt the mood”). But the good news is that we definitely favour “spoilt” for adjectives (“the spoilt brat cried because the milk was spoilt”).

Q: Oh great, now I’ve burnt my toast.
A: Sorry to hear that. Console yourself with the fact that while either “burnt” or “burned” is fine for verbs (again, we use -nt and North America prefer -ned), almost everyone opts for the “burnt” form with an adjective like “burnt toast”. Now please step away from the kitchen, you’re doing too much damage.

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