With the summer holidays fast approaching (hooray), there’s a question you might soon find yourself pondering. Perhaps it’ll be when you’re penning a postcard from more tropical climes. ‘Having a lovely time,’ you write. ‘Though I haven’t been able to sit down for two days, as I’ve managed to get terribly sunbur—’
Oh. Hang on. How do you write it? Is it sunburned or sunburnt?
The short answer
Obviously, you won’t want to spend the rest of your holiday wondering, so let’s settle this one.
The short answer is you’re not really going to get into trouble using either version (though you may get grief from your mum for not slathering on the factor 30). All the dictionaries list both options as perfectly acceptable.
The slightly longer answer
If you’d like a nudge one way or the other – and it’s a very gentle nudge, mind you – you could consider where you’re from, or whether you typically favour (or favor) British English or American English.
If we take a step back and remove the sun- part from the matter, we can look simply at the verb burn. Burn is one those irregular verbs (like spell, learn and dream) with two ways of writing the past tense form. You’ve guessed it: with either a –t or an –ed.
Should it be 'sunburned' or 'sunburnt'? And who hid the sunscreen? Find out one of the answers @EmphasisWriting Click To Tweet
And as we’ve seen before, where there’s a choice between an –ed and a –t ending, American English tends to favour –ed. The –t ending is seen as more of a British thing.
Take your pick
But this is far from a hard-and-fast rule: you’ll find exceptions on both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond). Essentially, just like your choice of holiday destination, in the end it’s up to you. As with any style choice, though, once you’ve chosen, it’s always good to stay consistent.
Now that’s all sorted, it’s still probably best that you go and stock up on sunscreen. Better safe and all that.
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