Burnt or burned? Dreamt or dreamed? Leant or leaned? Smelt or smelled? Leapt or leaped? Learnt or learned?
I thought I knew, exactly when to use one form over the other and then I found myself questioning it as more and more people gave me their opinion. Of course, the opinion that I ought to have listened to was my editor’s who insisted that the reading public preferred the author to use one form or the other.
I have always maintained that there are definite instances when one of these two forms should be used. For example: the burnt toast went straight in the bin; I burned the toast. In this instance it is fairly straightforward – adjective vs verb.
But in the case of dreamt/dreamed, leapt/leaped it is not so simple. In that particular instance I agree that one ought to stick with either one form or the other but within the context of the sentence and the meaning you are trying to convey, or, if context is irrelevant then I tend to select it based on the writing/speech. If it is old and english then it is dreamt. If it is modern and americanised then I use dreamed.
But I have been told that I am incorrect in my thought process and either form can be used. But, int he case of dreamt/dreamed – I would use the former to use one instance within the dream or the latter if it happened throughout the dream sequence. For leapt/leaped I would use ‘she leapt in front of the bus’ – the action ends abruptly – or ‘the deer leaped over the car’ – it refers to the constant action.
I’m lucky to work in a school library and I have now looked it up in text books and spoken with English teachers and I can report that there is no one conclusive rule; none of them completely agree with each other on which form is best used in everyday language, and the rules governing its use can be complex, depending on word, situation, language, speech/narrative, etc. I shall stick with what I know and conclude that if it sounds right, use it.
This, of course is a completely useless conclusion to non-english speakers as they will not have had enough exposure to the spoken language. Therefore, for them I give this advice: use the -t ending if it refers to a short occurrence (I burnt my arm on the oven), or -ed ending if it took longer (Dad burned the burgers). On the other hand you could use one form and stick with it, but it wouldn’t have the same impact.
Should I now talk about while and whilst which do not fall into the same category as the previous examples or have you had enough?
While I use one form over the other when it sounds right and tend to stick to whilst to mean during, in the more definite cases of although or whereas I switch them accordingly, and I was gratified to find that explanation written down.
You may now deliver your verdict. In the meantime I now have to go back and re-edit my novel…