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Dreamed vs. dreamt

There is no difference between dreamed and dreamt. Both are considered correct, and both function as the past tense and past participle of the verb dream. Dreamed is preferred in all main varieties of English, but dreamt is especially common in British English; while American writers use dreamt about a tenth as often as dreamed, British writers use dreamt about a third of the time.

Dreamt is more often used in the figurative senses of the word—especially in the phrase dreamt up—while dreamed is more likely to denote the mental activity that occurs during sleep. But this is by no means a rule, and both words are used both ways.

Ngram

This ngram graphs the occurrence of dreamed and dreamt in English-language works published between 1800 and 2000:


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This shows that dreamed has been the preferred form at least since 1800. And indeed, based on examples found in historical Google Books searches, dreamed has always been more common than dreamt, and dreamt is likely the newer form. We find an abundance of instances of dreamed in sources from the 16th and 17th centuries, while dreamt is rare until the 19th.

Examples

Though dreamt may be fading out of the language in favor of dreamed, it still appears in some major publications—for example:

Instead, Match Day 33 dreamt up the plot of a manager who leaves the league’s most left-leaning, anti-capitalist club. [Guardian]

In fact, during the night he actually dreamt up a new ring design using ethical diamonds. [New York Times]

For decades, developing countries dreamt of sky-high commodity prices and rock-bottom international interest rates. [Sydney Morning Herald]

But these same publications are more likely to use dreamed in most contexts—for example:

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Comments

  1. I tend to use dreamed, except when followed by “up”. To say you “dreamed up” something just sounds odd, whereas “dreamt up” seems to fit.

  2. Interested says:

    Any clarification on the use of ‘cheat’ and ‘cheater’ as I believe cheater is an incorrect use of the word although very common in recent years (esp. American TV shows and films).

    • Jdexter1148 says:

      I am no grammar expert; but, “cheat” is normally used as a verb, meaning to cheat. “Cheater” is normally used as a noun, meaning the one who cheats, e.g., I, you, he, she, it, we, they all cheat ( the pronouns are all the subjects and cheat is the action verb); but, I, you, he, she, it, we, they are all cheaters (the pronouns are still the subjects, “are” is the passive verb and cheaters the plural of the word cheater is used as a noun and the direct object of the sentence).

      • stockbob55 says:

        Absolutely correct, the two words are entirely different although from the same root, cheat describes the action (verb) the other the subject (noun).
        eg.Most cheaters cheat.

      • “I am no grammar expert; but,”

        Talk about redundant!

        • Melody Armstrong says:

          It’s not exactly redundant. Jdexter is letting them know ahead of time that heshe is not a grammar expert, so heshe is saying what heshe thinks is the rule, but if it turns out they are not correct it won’t come as a shocker to them.

          • That one went over your head. We can all tell Jdexter is not a grammar expert because, in the first six words of his sentence, he already managed to misuse a semicolon and a comma. Therefore, it was redundant for him to inform us that he doesn’t know much about grammar. Although technically speaking, grammar is not the same thing as punctuation.

          • Rasputin Andreievich says:

            Your use of commas following ‘before’ and ‘therefore’ disturbs me. ‘Therefore’ is indicative of a reference to a cause, not an effect, thus it should lie after the grammatical comma–see the way I used ‘thus,’ that’s what I mean (also my use of ‘thats’). If that’s the way you were taught to use commas, you should reevaluate your education.

          • Richard Lawrence says:

            How do you know that Jdexter is male?
            .

        • Kelli Philpot says:

          I think it’s less redundant and more demonstrative. I’m no manners expert, but I think you’re kind of a douche.

      • stellabystarlite says:

        That should be “I am no grammar expert, but…”

  3. hunkahunka says:

    So the word “dreamt” is more common in England than in the U.S., that might explain why the word is used more in the black population of the south than is the word “dreamed”. Even my computer underlined the English variation as being misspelled.

    • That would be because you have set your proofreading language to American English. Mine does not underline “dreamt” because my proofreading language is set to British English. It’s for this same reason that my PC would underline “misspelled” and yours would underline “misspelt”.

    • Melody Armstrong says:

      That would make sense. I’ve always thought of the word ‘dreamt’ as more British than American or Canadian. I never knew of this rule; it just sounded like it was naturally said with a British accent. To me, anyway

  4. I grew up in the midwest and have always heard/used “dreamt.” It must be popular in Illinois as well.

  5. Same here, and I’m from Ohio.

  6. I’m from the UK and I generally use dreamt. However, I find dreamed, whilst past tense, should be used over dreamt when talking about something in the future. I don’t know what thats called. For example: ‘I dreamed of a future without war’. Over ‘I dreamt of a future without war’. I think its probably just preference, but dreamed sounds more positive-future to me and dreamt sounds very in the past to me.

    • As an author, this is almost exactly how I differentiate between the two. I’m trying to think of any exceptions.

      “I wondered if I had dreamt (made up) the whole encounter”

      “I dreamed (reveled in the thought) about her being in my arms”

      I wonder if it is as simple as ‘dreamed’ being passive and ‘dreampt’ being active. I’m going to have to think about this some more.

      • This is very interesting! The difference in spelling might relate to the
        derivation of ‘dream’ itself: there are two totally different meanings
        if you check OED: the rarer form roughly translating to ‘joy, rapture’.
        I
        wonder if the wikipedia entry on ‘dream’ confuses the two as ultimately
        deriving from the same root. “Dream-hole” was apparently the name for
        the slits in the walls of church towers for the (joyous?) sound of bells
        to escape – as well one word (among many) for the ventilation
        holes/lights in gable walls of more ordinary buildings.

      • Henry Clarson says:

        I would generally use ‘dreamt’ if I was describing the contents of a dream that took place while I slept.
        “I dreamt about dragons riding bicycles.”
        I’d use ‘dreamed’ if I was talking about a hope or an aspiration.
        “I dreamed about winning this contract.”

        It wouldn’t be grammatically wrong to use ‘dreamed’ and ‘dreamt’ in place of each other but I think it would make a subtle difference to the style and tone of each sentence.

  7. I’ve been correcting Neil Diamond every time I hear his melodic tone expressing “have you ever heard about the frog who dreamed of being a prince…? And then became one” by shouting “dreamt” for years. I stand corrected.

  8. Vimalakirti says:

    ALL of the examples of “dreamed” you cite above are being used as past participles, while all of the “dreamt” examples are being used in the simple past. Is it possible that dreamed is more common as a pp.? (This is how I tend to use them in my speech.) At any rate, you should give a couple examples of “dreamed” used as a past tense verb.

  9. sea scout says:

    I think “dreamed” makes more sense when you want to put emphasis on the acting of dreaming, and “dreamt” when you want to emphasize the content of the dream. e.g “I dreamt about you last night” vs “after weeks of eating mountains of cheese before bed, last night I finally dreamed the most vivid dream.”

  10. Michael ODay says:

    I prefer deamt! My spell checker seems to be out of agreement with me. I’d punish my spell checker but it is but a cheat.

  11. I’ve noticed “dreamed” tends to be used as part of the perfect tense, after “have”.
    -I had dreamed, he had dreamed
    “Dreamt” tends to be used more on its own
    -I dreamt, he dreamt

  12. Heena Sophia Miller says:

    It’s most likely that you’re saying you have grown up using and hearing “dreamt” because the word “dreamed” is more commonly pronounced as dreamt.

  13. James Hand says:

    It’s complicated, but I would say them in different ways. For example;
    “I dreamed a dream, but this is what I dreamt of…” type of thing, or something like;
    “This *is* what I have dreamt of.” and a similar but opposite instance being: “This *was* what I have dreamed of.”
    Anyone else think like that, or is it just my preference?

  14. One source I found said that dreamed is used for daydreaming, “I always dreamed I would be a dancer,” whereas dreamt is used for having actually had a dream during sleep, “Last night I dreamt of a great ship in the sky.”

    That led me to check other sources, and I landed here. After reading the discussions below, I checked Merriam-Webster and Oxford. Merriam-Webster shows dreamed or dreamt as being acceptable and the same. Oxford shows them being different in the way that I described above. This could explain the noticeable difference in how folks with a British background may be using the word.

    Perhaps the usage of these is in transition from having been different to becoming the same.

  15. american english is not correct because it is a mixed language.this means there is a difference between these two words…”dreamed” does not exist.the correct word is “dreamt”..as long as it is an irregular verb…

  16. Thanks for this information.

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