Pronunciation of Past Tense Endings

Many languages have a one-to-one spelling-pronunciation relationship, but the English language has no such thing! This is why English pronunciation is difficult for learners to master. On top of the 26 vowel sounds and many tricky consonant sounds such as “th”, students need to learn the pronunciation of endings that change according to the last sound of the word. For example, the past tense ending -ed can be pronounced as /t/, /d/, or /ɪd/ depending on the last letter of the verb. Luckily there are rules for such cases!

Today’s blog post was inspired by this week’s Spotlight lesson, Juan and Sofia – Simple Past Reading, which has an exercise on the spelling rules for adding -ed (the past tense ending of regular verbs). I thought it would be helpful to blog about the different ways of pronouncing the -ed ending. Note that I use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in this post. Play the audio examples at the end of this article for pronunciation practice for your students or children.

1. Pronounce the -ed ending as /t/ following voiceless consonants.

Voiceless (also called soft or unvoiced) consonants refer to sounds that don’t make your vocal cords vibrate. If you put your hand to your throat when you pronounce these sounds, you won’t feel a vibration. These sounds are all soft like a whisper. Voiceless consonants in English include: /f/, /k/, /p/, /s/, /ʃ/ (also written as /sh/, as in the final sound in “wash”), /tʃ/ (also written as /ch/, as in the final sound in “watch”), and /θ/ (also written as /th/, as in the final sound in “math”). When a verb ends in these sounds, the -ed ending is pronounced with the voiceless sound /t/. The reason for this is that it is natural (i.e., easier to pronounce) for a voiceless sound to follow another voiceless sound.

2. Pronounce the -ed ending as /d/ following voiced sounds.

Voiced (also called loud) consonants and vowels refer to sounds that make your vocal cords vibrate. If you put your hand to your throat when you pronounce these sounds, you will feel a vibration. These sounds are all loud—you can hear the noise they make. Voiced consonants in English include: /b/, /dʒ/ (as in the final sound in “bridge”), /ʒ/ (as in the final sound in “garage”), /g/, /j/ (also written as /y/, as in the first sound in “yes”), /l/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/ (the “ing” sound), /ð/ (also written as /th/, as in the first sound in “there”), /r/, /v/, /w/, /z/, and any vowel sound. When a verb ends in these sounds, the -ed ending is pronounced with the voiced sound /d/. The reason for this is that it is natural (i.e., easier to pronounce) for a voiced sound to follow another voiced sound.

3. Pronounce the -ed ending as /ɪd/ following “t” or “d”.

When a verb ends in the letters “t” or “d”, the -ed ending is pronounced with the syllable /ɪd/ (also written as /əd/ or /ed/—the same vowel sound as the word “it”). The reason we add a whole extra syllable, including a vowel sound, is because it would be impossible to say two /t/ or two /d/ sounds together without a vowel in between. Imagine trying to say “wantt” instead of “wanted”, or “needd” instead of “needed”!

4. Practice

Let’s practice with the words from our lesson of the week, Juan and Sofia – Simple Past Reading in the Library – Simple Past Stories section. These words can be found in the reading and exercises. If you’re a parent or a teacher, play this audio for your young learners and have them repeat the words. If you’re a student (or a teacher assigning this for homework), play the audio and repeat the words until you’re comfortable with the pronunciation of the past tense
-ed
 ending.

A) Pronounce the -ed ending as /t/ following voiceless sounds.

 


Word list: punched, finished, looked, stopped, watched, boxed, practiced (practised), finished, danced

B) Pronounce the -ed ending as /d/ following voiced sounds.

 


Word list: answered, yelled, listened, preferred, answered, entered, died, sewed, exercised, fanned, prayed, traveled (travelled), opened, smiled, cried, snowed, played, studied

C) Pronounce the -ed ending as /ɪd/ following “t” or “d”.

 


Word list: shouted, visited, admitted, wanted, needed

(Note: For the phonetic symbols in this post, I used http://ipa.typeit.org.)

Find the Juan and Sofia – Simple Past Reading lesson in the Library – Simple Past Stories section.

     

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Tanya Trusler

Tanya is a freelance editor and writer with an extensive background as an ESL teacher. She edits lesson plans, creates new materials, and writes weekly blog posts for ESL-Library and Sprout English. Her company is Editing to a T. Follow her on Twitter (@tanyatrusler) and Google Plus.

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