Pronouncing the past “-ed”

How to practise the pronunciation of regular past English verbs?

In my experience a lot of Spanish speakers tend to “over-pronounce” the “-ed” in the past forms of regular English verbs. When I ask my students why they do it, they say it is to make sure the listener understands that they are talking about the past.

So they often end up saying the “-ed” in “liked or “jumped” for example just like they pronounce it in “wanted” or “painted“. This is wrong logic and wrong pronunciation.

I always explain to my students that there is no need to over-emphasize the “-ed” ending to make sure that the listener understands we are talking about the past. In fact, it can have the opposite effect: distract the listener. If you pronounce the “-ed” in “liked” the same way as in “painted“, the listener may understand you are saying “like it”. Which is not what you mean.

So how can we know when to pronounce the “-ed” ending the same way as in “wanted” or “created“, and when is it pronounced differently? This is sometimes a dilemma for even more advanced learners of English, and they often refer back to the classical “vowels, voiced and unvoiced consonants” technical terminology, which is of course nice if you know it, but many students just feel further confused by it.

If this resonates with you, then let me show you a different way to look at it. Here’s my ear-friendly “non-techie” explanation of the same thing. See if it works better for you, or if it complements the textbook approach you probably learned in school.

Check out this video for a step by step explanation. Use your ears to practise.

It may seem surprising at first that we are not going to mention consonants and vowels. Rather, we are going to use our ears and focus on sound. No talk about vowels or voiced and unvoiced consonants and other stuff that learners usually find to be too techie linguistic terminology and don’t like in general.

Note that this method is not 100% bullet proof because sounds get distorted in fluent speech. However, this is a handy tool you reach out for whenever in doubt, and it should work in most cases or get you pretty close, , without the need to memorise the groups of voiced or unvoiced consonants. Of course, I encourage you to keep the textbook explanations at hand as well. The two together work even better.

Gabor Legradi
Author: Gabor Legradi

I'm an English teacher with a background in linguistics and music.

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