Do you struggle to pronounce past-endings in English? Answer this question and find out:
Say the following phrase aloud, “I moved in last week.” Did you pronounce the word “moved” as:
The correct answer is C.
How do you know when an -ed ending sounds like a ‘d’ or a ‘t’ or an extra syllable ‘ed’? As you may have guessed, English has rules for this, and when it comes to past-tense endings, these rules are remarkably exception-free (it’s true!)
Before we dive into the rules, let’s give you some background knowledge on voiced an unvoiced speech sounds in English. I promise you it’s not as complicated as it sounds…and it’s actually a necessary concept for other pronunciation issues (hint: plural -s).
You can watch this video to help you understand it better, or you can keep reading below.
Voiced or Unvoiced?
First, you need to be aware of voiced and unvoiced consonants. Consonants are said with your voice “on” or “off.”
Place your hand on the front of your throat and say “duh.” You should feel your voice vibrate. Now, say “tuh.” There should be no vibration on your hand.
“d” is a voiced consonant, “t” is an unvoiced consonant.
Similarly, you should be able to feel your voice “on” the whole time for the word, “bad.” However, when you say the word, “pat,” your should only feel your voice turn on briefly for the “a” and that’s it.
Once you’re aware that consonants are voiced or unvoiced, you can determine if a past tense ending should be pronounced as ‘d’, ‘t’ or ‘ed’.
-ed endings pronounced as /t/
If a verb ends in a voiceless consonant, then the past tense -ed ending will be pronounced as “t.”
So, if a verb ends in the following sounds, [p, k, s, f, ʃ, tʃ], the past tense ending will sound like a /t/.
- hoped = [hopt]
- parked = [parkt]
- hissed = [hIst]
- laughed = [læft]
- wished = [wIʃt]
- hatched = [hætʃt]
Why is that? In English, it’s more efficient to keep the voice turned off when adding a past-tense ending to an already unvoiced consonant.
-ed endings pronounced as /d/
The opposite is true if a verb ends in a voiced sound. It’s more efficient to keep the voice turned on for a past-tense ending, if your voice is already on at the end of a word.
This means that verbs that end in voiced consonants will have a past-tense ending pronounced as /d/.
- dimmed = [dImd]
- banned = [bænd]
- hanged = [hæŋd]
- stubbed = [stʌbd]
- tagged = [tægd]
- bailed = [beld]
- loved = [lʌvd]
- buzzed = [bʌzd]
- judged = [dʒʌdʒd]
- bathed = [beðd]
-ed endings pronounced as [Id]
There is one more way to pronounce the past-tense -ed sound.
A past tense “-ed” ending will create it’s own syllable at the end of a word and be pronounced as [Id] if a verb ends in ‘t’ or ‘d’.
This is because the only way to hear the past-tense ending in a word that ends in ‘t’ or ‘d’ is to make it a separate syllable.
waited = [wetId]
Added = [ædId]
Would it be helpful to have a checklist of the past-tense pronunciation rules? I’ve made one for you that you can download right away:
Speak with clarity
By now, you may be asking yourself, “How will I remember to the correct way to pronounce past-tense endings when I’m talking to someone?” The answer is awareness and practice. You are aware of the rules now and how to predict them. That really is half the battle right there. There are plenty of ways you can practice:
- Actively listen for how native speakers pronounce past-tense endings
- Look for examples of past-tense endings in print and predict how to pronounce them based on the rules you learned
- Check your predictions using an online dictionary or Google translate
- Ask a trusted friend or colleague to give you feedback on your pronunciation and let you know if you made an error
Awareness and practice will help you build your own internal database for past-tense endings. With focused practice, you will be impressed with how quickly it becomes natural to you.