The verb, “to spell,” can mean “to signify” or “to explain in direct terms.” It deals with naming, writing, or suggesting a particular word order. But, all verbs have past tenses, meaning actions that occurred at an earlier period of time. This is one word that creates a bit of confusion in its accepted past tense.
“Spelled” and “Spelt” are both correct. They are the past simple of the verb “to spell”. “Spelled” is more common in American English and “spelt” is more common in British English.
Differences between Spelled and Spelt
For American English, “spelled” is the correct word order. So, you would say:
She spelled the wrong word.
But, for British English, “spelt” would be correct. However, it’s also acceptable to use “spelled,” albeit less frequently. Therefore, in this context you would say:
She spelt the wrong word.
Take note that it does seem as though most British, Scottish and Irish wordsmiths do not make a distinction between either. They will use “spelled” or “spelt” without rhyme or reason.
The above examples feature “to spell” in relationship to suggesting a particular order of words. When using it under the banner of “to signify,” you would say:
American or British: The intelligence leak spelled danger for the government.
British Only: The intelligence leak spelt danger for the government.
Likewise, when referring to the definition of “to spell” as a means of explicit explanation:
American or British: She spelled out the exact conditions that he must fulfill before they marry.
British Only: She spelt out the exact conditions that he must fulfill before they marry.
Do not confuse the past tense verb “spelt,” with the noun, “spelt.” This latter word indicates a particular type of hulled wheat. If you use “spelt” in America, many people will understand it as a misspelling or think you’re talking about grain.
If you have difficulty deciphering between the two words, there’s an easy trick to remember which is which. Both versions will have the root “spel.” The “T” in British equals “spelt” and the other is American “-LED,” or “spelled.”
So, essentially, where you are will dictate which version of the past tense word, “to spell” you will use. If you’re in the United States or any of its territories, use “spelled.” But, if you’re in the UK or any of its satellites, including Canada, use “spelt.”
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