Learn English – Why is “earnt” not a word?


Being an Australian I am accustomed to -t past tenses like learnt and spelt, so naturally I would write and say "earnt". However, when I wrote "earnt" in an email, Outlook underlined it as a misspelt word.

I did some further research and discovered that in all English dialects "earned" is used instead of "earnt". Why is this the case, and for how long has it been?

As mentioned in a similar question on this site, Wiktionary is the only online dictionary with an entry for "earnt".

NOTE: I checked for this same question on this site, but it only had what I already knew (the validity of the word). I would like to know why "earnt" is not a word.

Best Answer

Short answer: It is.

The OED does have it as a (regional and nonstandard) form since the 1800's, and the earliest citation is 1748 G. G. Beekman Let. 7 June in Beekman Mercantile Papers (1956) I. 47:

I have Earnt allmost so much as the amount of the bill.

However it is not, and has never been, in popular written use. Using Google Ngram to query the English corpus, the market share of earnt v earned has widened since 1700.

The Australian corpus only shows 4 results, containing earnt. 185 for earned.

Remember that dictionaries are post facto. If you want it in, you have to use it.