-ed in the past: how do you pronounce it?
When it comes to spelling, regular verbs in the past are easy: you just need to add -ed to the base form of the verb. However, when it comes to pronunciation, things are not so simple. On the contrary, they can be quite tricky!
-ed can be pronounced in 3 ways: as t, d, or id. So the question is: when do we pronounce t, d, or id, and how do we know which one is right? It depends on the last sound of the base form of the verb. (Let’s talk about sounds and not letters, because sometimes, letters are not pronounced, like the e in love, or a single letter can have more than one sound, like c. In cascade, it sounds like k, and in recess, like s. So we talk about sounds and not letters in pronunciation).
We need to start by learning the difference between voiced and voiceless sounds. Let’s say there are two main families in the world of sounds:
Voiced sounds are the ones that make your vocal cords vibrate. Plac e your fingers on your throat and say the vowels (a, e, i, o, u), and the consonant sounds m, n, l, b, and v : they produce vibration in your vocal chords. Other voiced sounds are ð, z, dʒ, ʒ, and ŋ. (If you are not sure what the symbols represent, watch my video below!).
Voiceless sounds are the ones that do not make your vocal cords vibrate. Place your fingers on your throat and say the sounds p, k, t, s, sh, ch, and f: they do not produce vibration in your vocal chords. Another voiceless sound is θ, which is the sound of th in three.
So, a simple way of thinking about this is: voiced sounds have voice, while voiceless sounds have no voice.
Why is this important? Because if the last sound of the infinitive verb is voiced, the -ed will be pronounced with a voiced sound (voiced + voiced). If the last sound is voiceless, the -ed will be pronounced with a voiceless sound (voiceless + voiceless).
T is voiceless. D is voiced.
Let’s see some examples.
Worked: the last sound of the base form of the verb is K, which is voiceless, so -ed sounds like T. Worked should be pronounced workt.
Dropped: the last sound (p) is voiceless, so we need T. Dropped sounds like dropt.
Trimmed: the last sound (m) is voiced, so we need D. Trimmed sounds like trimd.
Called: the last sound (l) is voiced, so we need D. Called sounds like cold.
And, what happens with verbs that end in T or D? Good question! In that case, -ed sounds like id. Let’s see:
Complete: The last sound is T, so we need id: completed sounds like complitid.
Need: The last sound is D, so we need id: needed sounds like nidid.
How would you pronounce the past tense of these verbs? Take some time to do it, and then check your answers below.
Admit Agree Ask Believe Call Cook Decide Develop Last Learn
How did it go?
Pronouncing the -ed correctly can take some time to master, but with practise and determination, it will get easier and easier until you don’t even need to think about it anymore.
T: asked, cooked, developed
D: agreed, believed, called, learned
ID: admitted, decided, lasted