Spelled or Spelt – what is correct and how to use it

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Irregular verb to Spell: Spelled or Spelt

In our database, you can find the irregular verb ‘spell’ and we also prepared this simple image and PDF:

Irregular verb to Spell

This verb has both an irregular and regular form. You can use both and both are correct. Speakers in North America and Canada use spelled while the rest of the English-speaking world seems to prefer spelt but accept spelled as well.

A very common usage „Spell out“ means „to explain something in a very clear way with details“

But which is the most used one, spelt or spelled? Let´s look at Google Ngram Viewer tool which displays a graph showing how phrases have occurred in a corpus of books over the years.
Spelled is more used than Spilt from 1890.

The irregular pattern for Spell, Spelt, Spelled

We can group irregular verbs by their pattern. It means that more irregular verbs have the same pattern.
In the case of the verb ‘Spell’ we can see the same pattern with these verbs:

Infinitive Past simple Past participle
Smell Smelt / Smelled Smelt / Smelled
Spill Spelt / Spelled Spelt / Spelled
Feel Felt Felt
Keep Kept Kept
Leave Left Left
Learn Learnt / Learned Learnt / Learned

There are many other verbs with the same pattern though.

Learning patterns is a good way how to learn the irregular forms.

Examples of the usage `Spelt` and `Spelled`

Let´s look at the current online media:

  • It was spelt out right at the start of the campaign in the autumn there is zero tolerance for this sort of thing. – [BBC]
  • People gathered outside St Mary’s Church in Mildenhall as the cortege made its way there, with the words “Dobbo” and “husband” spelt out in flowers in the hearse. – [BBC]
  • As she drove her train into Pearse Station in Dublin on Tuesday, she was met with the words ‘Will you marry me?’, spelt out on four placards. – [BBC]
  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Aung San Suu Kyi’s name in the headline – [CNN]
  • As spelled out in the International Health Regulations, …– [CNN]
  • The proclamation is in effect for people who do not fall under a number of exceptions spelled out in the order. – [CNN]

Meaning of Spell

The Oxford Dictionary says `Spell` means „to say or write the letters of a word in the correct order”:

  • How do you spell your surname?
  • You’ve spelt my name wrong.
  • Spell something with something I thought her name was Catherine, but it’s Kathryn spelt with a ‘K’.
  • Should ‘internet’ be spelled with a capital or lower case i?

We can find very similar meaning in the Cambridge dictionary: „to form a word or words with the letters in the correct order“:

  • How do you spell receive?
  • Shakespeare did not always spell his own name the same way.
  • Our address is 1520 Main Street, Albuquerque. Shall I spell that (out) (= say in the correct order the letters that form the word) for you?
  • I think it’s important that children should be taught to spell.

Synonyms for ‘Spell

  • bewitch,
  • charm,
  • enchant,
  • ensorcell
  • …atc…

More examples irregular verbs

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