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Dwelled vs. dwelt

In American English, the past tense and past participle of dwell is usually dwelled. In varieties of English from outside North America, dwelt is the preferred form. Both are common in Canadian English.

Both forms are many centuries old, but dwelt has been more common for at least three centuries. The American preference for dwelled is a new development. A Google Ngram charting the words’ use in 20th-century American books and magazines shows dwelt still prevailing at the end of the century, but this isn’t borne out everywhere. In web searches limited to American news sources, the ratio of dwelled to dwelt is about 1:1 in the 1980s, 2:1 in the 1990s, 2:1 in the 2000s, and 3:1 since 2010.

Examples

Dwelt is the standard form outside North America:


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Once, writers dwelt quite apart from their readers. [Guardian]

The rain came down and in the crowd of 62,989 neutral thoughts might have dwelt on the pathetic fallacy. [Irish Times]

Those who supported the budget dwelt on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. [The Australian]

And though dwelt still appears occasionally in American sources, examples such as these are much easier to find:

Tuesday’s City Council discussion dwelled heavily on the problem of getting citizens to cooperate with police. [Los Angeles Times]

You know that you have dwelled in Washington too long when you begin to have the creeping sense that you are Important. [Washington Post]

He dwelled on the fact that consumers don’t like or trust wireless carriers. [New York Times]

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Comments

  1. Martin Bannon says:

    Born and raised in America and I don’t recall ever hearing “dwelled”; wouldn’t dream (and haven’t dreamt!) of using it, any more than I would say “sleeped.”

    • Grammarist says:

      Yes, the adoption of “dwelled” is a very new thing, so we would expect lots of people feel funny about it.

      We (two of the writers of this site) are Americans in our early 30s, and we weren’t at all surprised to find that “dwelled” is so much more common than “dwelt” in current American sources. We’d be more likely to use “dwelled,” though we don’t use the word much anyway. It has a slightly archaic ring, except in the phrasal verb “dwell on.” But that’s just us.

  2. I’m in my mid 20s, and as I sit here trying to think about what I’m more likely to say, I get a weird feeling that I would use “dwelled” when talking about a group of people (eg, the Johnson family dwelled on the problem) and “dwelt” when talking about a single person (eg, Susan dwelt on the problem). Not for any real reason except for the way it flows off my tongue. Also, Google Chrome is warning me that “dwelled” is a misspelling.

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