Question: “Hi Jordan! Recently a friend of mine corrected me – or attempted to – saying I should have used ‘burned’ instead of ‘burnt.’ The sentence was something like, ‘The chicken was good, but a little burnt.’ Which one is the right way to go?”
Answer: It seems like we’ve had a lot of these transatlantic dilemmas popping up lately. Maybe there’s a favorable wind over the Atlantic?
You may have guessed already, but what we have here is a style split between British and American English.
Both “burned” and “burnt” are perfectly acceptable as the past and past participle forms of “burn,” and also as the adjectival form. Which one you choose is likely to depend on where you’re from.
In North America, you’re far more likely to hear people use “burned” as the past tense of “burn,” while “burnt” is often reserved for adjectival uses (ex. burnt sienna, burnt toast, etc.).
Our friends the Brits, on the other hand, are more likely to use “burnt” as the past tense of “burn.” I don’t have hard numbers on how often you’ll hear them say “burned,” but I’m going to go out on a limb and say less.
At any rate, while either “burned” or “burnt” would be acceptable in your example sentence, “burnt” is probable the more standard American English choice.
As always, thanks for writing in. Please keep sending in those grammar questions!