Grammar and spelling,  Proofreading

Spelt v spelled

People are often confused about the correct spelling of the past tense of the verb ‘to spell’.

As with so many of these issues, the problem seems to be one of a clash between the UK, the US, and the rest of the English-writing world, and a question of style.

Grammar or cookery?

Spelt bread - The Fresh
Spelt bread: delicious and wheat-free

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that ‘spelt’ is a type of flour. It makes very good pancakes, and excellent bread. It’s not made from wheat, but does still contain gluten. I sometimes cook with it for my friend who is wheat intolerant, but not my coeliac friends. ‘Spelt’ is the correct spelling of this word, wherever you live.

‘Spelt’ is also a valid spelling of the past tense of the verb ‘to spell’ – unless you’re in the US. ‘Spelled’ is a valid spelling of the word anywhere.

In summary

The same is true of other words with this structure, like ‘learned’ and ‘learnt’ (although there’s no such thing as learnt flour).

In the US, spelled can only be spelt spelled, and never spelt; only spelt is spelled spelt, whereas outside the US, spelled can be spelled spelt or spelled, but spelt is always spelt spelt.


The key thing here is what I always come back to: consistency. If you’ve written ‘spelt’ the first time, don’t write ‘spelled’ the second time (or vice versa).

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