One of the typical problems learners of English frequently come across is how to pronounce the endings in regular past English verbs. When I mean regular I mean all the ones that end in -ed/d like ‘walk>walked’, ‘study>studied’. There are actually some simple rules that will help students get this right almost all the times.
Rule number one: careful not to pronounce the final -ed
It is very unusual to pronounce an ‘e’ before a ‘d’ in a past simple tense unless the consonant before the final -ed ends in either a ‘t’ or a ‘d’ (we’ll see this in a minute). So the past sound of final -ed in a verb like ‘designed’ would sound like /dɪ ‘zaind/ and not /dɪ ‘zained/.
Rule number two: pronouncing the final -ed and making it sound like an /id/
Verbs that end in a ‘d’ or ‘t’ do sound the final -e. Why? Because if you don’t sound it, you won’t be able to distinguish the difference between a present and a past tense. See this for yourself by saying the following verbs without pronouncing the ‘e’.
- start > started */sta:t/
- depart> departed */depa:t/
- exceed> exceeded */ek’si:d/
Was it easy? Could you hear the difference between the present and past? Actually, these verbs should sound /sta:tid, dipa:tid, ek’si:did/.
You may have noticed that what actually comes out of your mouth isn’t exactly an -ed sound. Instead of this, you get an /id/. Well, this is basically because when people pronounce the final /d/, it is in the upper part of their mouths which is almost the same place as where the /i/ is pronounced. If you really want to make your final -ed sound like an -ed and not an -id, you’d have to sort of stop in the middle of the word, lower your tongue and focus really hard on it, which looks and sounds quite strange (and if you don’t believe me, try doing this in the mirror and see what you look like. Ha, ha, ha!!!).
Rule number three. Getting your ‘ts’ right
Pronouncing a /t/ instead of a /d/ isn’t a matter of choice. Rather it is due to the final sound in the word. If the final sound in the verb happens to be an unvoiced consonant like a ‘k’ or a ‘p’ or a ‘sh’, for instance, you’re are going to get that very English /t/ sound whether you like it or not. If you happen to get a ‘d’ sound instead, it probably means that you’re pronouncing the -e which isn’t correct.
So, with verbs like ‘walk’, work, flap, burp, should sound /wɔ: kt, wɜ:kt, flæpt, bɜ:pt/ when saying them in the simple past.
Lets do some listening activities to grasp the ideas we’ve just explained.
- Not making the -e sound in all verbs that do not have a ‘t’ or ‘d’ ending. And, not making that -ed sound like a ‘t’ because the last sound is voiced (meaning that the vocal chords are vibrating).
glue> glued – listen> listened – cry>cried – hug>hugged – curve>curved
- When we MUST pronounce the -e in past tenses. TIP: when the last consonant is either ‘t’ or ‘d’. Listen to these verbs in the present tense and try to guess how they would sound in the past simple.
start – waste – flirt – imitate – affect – import
- Last one! Now the ‘t’ sound. This happens when the last sound of the verb is silent (no vibration of vocal chords). We have quite a few and we can’t always trust writing as some of you will already know that English sounds don’t always correspond to the written form of a word.
Try to figure out what these words would sound like in the past simple before you listen to the audio.