-ed; how to pronounce regular past tense endings

(Originally published in the TEE book, this is an updated and expanded article with additional material.)


Let's begin with a simple exercise: just read the following text.

"Yesterday I decided to go out. I walked to the school where I talked to some students. They hated me and said they listened only to other students. I was so depressed that I boarded a train and travelled to London where I played tennis at Wimbledon. I borrowed a tennis racquet and picked a tennis court. I wanted to play Andy Murray because I had studied all his actions and watched several of his matches. But security arrived and stopped me getting onto the Centre Court. I fainted."

This exercise is to see if you have pronounced correctly the endings of all those past tense verbs that end in –ed. If you have not, then here is my handy guide on how to say them properly.

For the briefest, shortest, possible explanation, all (and only) regular verbs that end with the letters 'd' (e.g. defend) and 't' (e.g. wait) have the -ed ending sound, so we get defended (defen-ded) and waited (wait-ted). 

Let's now look back at the story above and take the regular past tense verbs used in the text, and then group them up into their appropriate sections:

Verbs with a ‘t’ /t/ ending sound: walked /wɔːkt/, talked /tɔːkt/, watched /wɒtʃt/, stopped /stɒpt/, depressed /dɪprest/.

Verbs with a ‘d’ /d/ ending sound: listened /lɪsn̩d/, travelled /trævl̩d/, played /pleɪd/, arrived /əˈraɪvd/.

Verbs with an ‘ed’ /ɪd/ ending sound: decided /dɪsaɪdɪd/, hated /heɪtɪd/, boarded /bɔːrdɪd/, wanted /wɒntɪd/, studied /stʌdɪd/, fainted /feɪntɪd/.


The general rules as to which ending is the correct ending are a little more tricky to explain. But I am going to try.

-ed /ɪd/ ending sounds

As already discussed at the start of this text, ‘ed’ /ɪd/ is easy enough; if the ‘ed’ or ‘ied’ spelling is after the letters d or t (as in decided, wanted, studied, then this –ed with the d or the t sound should be stressed: deci –ded, chat – ted. Sorry, died /daɪd/, and tied /taɪd/ do not count.

-d /d/ ending sounds

Now, when the verb ends with the following sounds:

/b/ (for example, rubbed); /g/ (tugged); /v/ (waved); /z/ (amazed); /ʒ/ (measured); /ð/ (bathed); /dʒ/ (dodged); /l/ (sailed); 

/r/ (stared); /w/ (bowed); /j/ (displayed); /m/ (harmed); /n/ (trained); /ŋ/ (longed).

then it will end with a ‘d’ /d/ sound. Read the list and try it.

If you still have the desire to say the ‘ed’ sound at the end, then think of the word without the letter e and read rubbed as ‘rubbd’.

In grammar terms, these are called voiced consonant sounds. To demonstrate what I mean by this, put your hand on your throat and say these past endings. You can clearly feel the sounds on your fingers, and so they are ‘voiced’.

-t /t/ ending sounds

With the next set of endings, these have a 't' /t/ sound (think stopped as ‘stopt’):

/p/ (for example, stopped); /k/ (kicked); /f/ (surfed, laughed); /s/ (passed, voiced); /ʃ/ (washed); /tʃ/ (watched); /ks/ (taxed).

The technical grammar lingo to these is known as unvoiced consonant sounds. Again, to demonstrate this, put your hand on your throat and say these words. This time you will not be able to feel these sounds so much as they are ‘unvoiced’.

There is a lot to remember here, so it is all down to practice, and saying these past tense regular verbs… regularly.

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