This week’s column idea comes straight from the top: Current Publishing VP and General Manager Steve Greenberg – and since he signs my checks, I figured it was worth writing about (the Les Misérables reference is all me though, baby).
My musical theatre-inclined readers will know Fantine actually sings “I dreamed a dream,” not “I dreamt a dream.” Phonetic preferences aside, it easily could have been “I dreamt a dream,” though, since, though the original lyrics for the musical adaptation of Vigo Hugo’s novel were written in French, the English translation was done by Herbert Kretzmer, who was born in South Africa while it was a British colony.
Now that you’re all sufficiently bored, here’s why all that matters: “Dreamed” and “dreamt” are both perfectly acceptable as the past tense of “dream,” however “dreamt” is much more common among British speakers – particularly those taught Received Pronunciation.
There are a number of verbs with equally interchangeable past tense forms: “learn,” “spoil,” “burn,” etc. “Dreamt” is a little more common than “spoilt,” perhaps, but I wager to say you hear it less in American English than “burnt.” At any rate, all of the “-t” forms tend to be used more frequently in British English.
I’ve written previously about “burned” and “burnt,” and situations where you might favor one over the other – but that’s not really the case here. “Dreamed” and “dreamt” are equally acceptable in every situation I can think of. The best reason to favor “dreamed” is that it’s going to sound more natural to the American ear. If you’re writing for a British audience, the reception might be the same regardless of which word you pick.
So that’s it: When it comes to “dreamt” and “dreamed,” you can’t go wrong. What a great world to live in, huh?