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spilled and spilt - the difference

The Quick Answer
If you're following US writing conventions, it's best to use spilled. If you're following UK writing conventions, you should also use spilled, but spilt is also widely accepted.

Spilled and Spilt

The verb to spill most commonly means to let a liquid flow over the edge of its container (especially by accident).

To spill is one of those verbs with both an irregular form and a regular form. (See the table below for some others.) The past tense and the past participle can be written as either spilled or spilt. However, they are not fully interchangeable, especially in the US.

Americans Demand Spilled

In America, spilled dominates. The use of spilt as the past tense or past participle of to spill is considered a spelling mistake by many. It will certainly annoy a fair proportion of your readers.

Brits Prefer Spilled but Will Accept Spilt

Outside America, spilled is the most common of the two, but spilt is generally accepted. (Spilt used to be more common. The change is almost certainly a result of American influence spreading.)

Verbs with Irregular and Regular Forms

The following verbs (like to spell) can be regular or irregular:

VerbPast SimplePast Participle
burnburned OR burntburned OR burnt
dreamdreamed OR dreamtdreamed OR dreamt
learnlearned OR learntlearned OR learnt
hanghung
also hanged
hung
also hanged
smellsmelled OR smeltsmelled OR smelt
spellspelled OR speltspelled OR spelt

Usually, the second form (e.g., learnt, dreamt) is more common in British English, but this is not the case with spilt.

Note

Spilt Milk

The idiom Do not cry over spilt milk is advice not to get upset about something which cannot be changed.

If you're an American, this might be your big chance to use the word spilt. You can always claim you're quoting an old idiom with British origins. (Spilled milk is also frequently written, so please don't think this is a rule. It's more of an opportunity.)
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