Is there a difference between dreamed and dreamt? You might be surprised to find conflicting reports. Some people say that there is no difference. Others say that the two words have different meanings. What’s the real deal?
Dreamt and dreamed are both past tense forms of dream. Dreamt is more common in Britain, while dreamed is more common in other English-speaking countries, including the U.S. Dreamed seems to be more popular than dreamt when talking about sleeping, but when dream has a hopeful, literary sense, dreamt might be used.
More Details About the Verb to Dream
Let’s start with the dictionary definition of “to dream.” To dream is to experience visions of thoughts as you sleep. However, you can also dream while you are awake, when you envision an event, hope for something, or just daydream. To illustrate, here is a quote from Epigrams by Oscar Wilde:
Oh, I dream of dragons with gold and silver scales, and scarlet flames coming out of their mouths, of eagles with eyes made of diamonds that can see over the whole world at once, of lions with yellow manes and voices like thunder. . .
Dreamed or Dreamt—What’s the Difference?
In addition to definitions, you can also search for the past tense of verbs in a dictionary. Merriam-Webster.com lists two forms for dream—dreamed and dreamt. So, the two words have at least one thing in common; they function as the past tense of dream. As you probably guessed, which one you favor depends on where you live. In all varieties of English except British, dreamed is the most common form by a landslide. However, in the United Kingdom, dreamt is almost as prevalent. Here are a couple of examples of dreamed and dreamt, both from ESPN sites. Pay attention to the meaning. Do you see a difference?
“Our goal is gold―we’ve dreamt about it from when we were little kids, laying in bed dreaming about it, getting that gold medal put around our necks on the podium.” ―ESPN W
Cristiano Ronaldo said Portugal [has] “dreamed” of making the final of Euro 2016 “since the very beginning.” ―ESPN FC
Don’t worry if you couldn’t find a difference. There really wasn’t one. Both sentences use dream in the sense of “to hope” for a future goal. Dreamt, if it is chosen, is most often used in this capacity. Writers talking about a sleep state or a waking fantasy are more likely to choose dreamed, as you will find in these literary examples:
He no longer dreamed of storm, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. . . . He never dreamed about the boy. ―Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
I dreamed I flung the violin into a brackish, wind-rippled slough, where the glue would slowly soften until it fell to pieces. I dreamed I laid it on the frozen ground and stepped on it, crushing the thin shell into jigsaw shards. ―Marta Iyer, The Pilgrim’s Book of Hours: A Baroque Migration
Besides the preference for dreamed over dreamt when refering to sleep or fantasy, some writers favor dreamed when duration matters. Here is the dreamt spelling in a sentence where duration is unimportant: The dog dreamt of bones last night. Does it matter whether the dream lasted three or five minutes? No, the main point is that the dog’s dream was about bones. Now, consider this sentence where duration is important: The dog dreamed of bones all night. Now, the focus is on how those bones filled the dog’s dream so much that he dreamed of nothing else. Other times, people decide which form to use based on other factors. For example, consider the “I dreamed a dream” lyrics from Les Misérables. Perhaps the composer just didn’t think “I dreamt a dream” sound right with the melody.
If someone asked you what your dreams were about last night, how would you answer? Would you say, “I dreamed of. . .” Or would you say, “I dreamt of. . .”? If you are British, dreamt is almost as likely a choice as dreamed. American English speakers would probably opt for dreamed, but they are both acceptable options. What is the difference between dreamed and dreamt? You know the answer to that, but what about learned vs. learnt?