Let’s go back to basics and talk about how to fix a common pronunciation mistake so that people understand you better.
Learn how to pronounce the -ed ending on past tense verbs, past participles, and participial adjectives that you use all the time.
The good news is that unlike most things you learn in English, the rules for how to pronounce these -ed endings are always true.
(Finally, we have a rule without exceptions! 🎉)
So let’s get started!
How to Pronounce the -Ed Ending in English
When you see these two letters together (-ed), it seems like you should just say “uhd,” or /əd/.
Depending on your native language, you may be tempted to add “ed” to every single past tense verb because it gives you more time to pronounce the ending.
However, as you’ve probably learned from experience, this can lead to a communication breakdown when people don’t understand which word you’re using.
That’s because there are actually three -ed endings that we add to past tense verbs and -ed adjectives: /t/, /d/, and /ɪd/.
Which -ed ending you choose has to do with the sound that you hear at the end of the main verb.
I’ll repeat that again: which -ed ending you choose depends on the sound at the end of the main verb, not the letter.
Understanding Voiced and Voiceless Sounds
For the purposes of discussing -ed endings, we can separate sounds into two categories: voiced and voiceless.
Voiceless sounds are the ones that are produced without using your voice box.
Voiced sounds are the ones that are produced by using your voice box.
You can identify whether or not a sound is voiceless by taking your hand and putting it on your neck.
Go ahead and put your hand on your neck!
This will help you remember how the sound is made and figure out the ending without having to memorize a list of rules.
Practicing the -ed Ending After Voiceless Sounds: /t/
Let’s look at some voiceless sounds and how they relate to the -ed ending.
If we say the word “look,” we can hear that it ends in the /k/ sound.
The final sound is voiceless, which means you can’t feel your voice box vibrating.
Let’s try it together: take your hand and let’s say the word “look” – look, look, look.
As you notice, your voice box is not vibrating on that /k/ sound: k, k, k.
Try it for yourself: look, look, look.
Now try saying the /t/ sound, the same sound you hear at the end of the word “cat”: t, t, t.
Do you feel your voice box vibrating?
No, you don’t. The /t/ sound is also a voiceless sound.
In order to make it easier for our mouths to transition smoothly from one sound to the next, we add the “t” sound to past tense verbs that end in a voiceless sound.
This means the past tense of the word “look” is “looked,” or /lʊkt/.
Let’s try it with your hand on your neck: /lʊkt/.
As you can hear, you’re transitioning from the /k/ sound to the /t/ sound: looked.
There’s no vibration happening from the /k/ to the /t/ sound.
What about the word “tap”?
Try saying the word “tap” and seeing if your voice box vibrates on that last sound: tap, tap, tap, p, p, p.
No, it doesn’t. That means the past tense of the word “tap” is “tapped,” or /tæpt/.
Now let’s try the word “laugh”: /læf/.
As you can hear, this word ends in the /f/ sound, even though the last two letters are “g” and “h”: laugh.
/f/ is also a voiceless sound, which means the past tense is “laughed”: /læft/.
Another example: miss, or /mɪs/. As you can tell, /s/ is also a voiceless sound.
That means the past tense will be “missed,” or /mɪst/.
One more example: wash, or /wɑʃ/.
Try putting your hand on your neck and saying / wɑʃ/. No vibration, right?
That means the past tense of “wash” is “washed,” or / wɑʃt/.
Once again, we add the /t/ to the end of verbs that end with voiceless sounds.
Practicing the -ed Ending After Voiced Sounds: /d/
Now let’s talk about voiced sounds.
As you can probably guess, your voice box vibrates when you say voiced sounds.
Try the /v/” sound and put your hand on your voice box and see if you can feel it vibrating:
Yes, you can feel your voice box vibrating on the “v” sound.
Let’s look at the word “move,” or /muv/.
In order to help our mouth transition from a voiced sound, we need to add another voiced sound to the end of the past tense verb.
Try saying the /d/ sound: d, d, d. In this case, you can feel your voice box vibrating.
That’s why the -ed ending sounds like /d/ after voiced sounds.
So the past tense of “move” is “moved,” or /muv/.
Let’s try another example, “plan,” or /plæn/.
As you notice, the /n/ sound is also a voiced sound.
That means the past tense of “plan” is “planned,” or /plænd/.
Here’s another one: hug, or /hʌg/.
Put your hand on your neck and see if you can feel your voice box moving.
You notice it, right? That means the past tense will be “hugged,” or /hʌgd/.
One more example: “comb,” or /koʊm/.
As you notice your voice box is vibrating on the “m” sound.
It doesn’t matter that the final letter is a “b”: the past tense is “combed,” or /koʊmd/.
Practicing the -ed Ending on Verbs That End in Vowel Sounds
What about verbs that end in vowel sounds, like the word “play”?
Try putting your hand on your voice box and seeing if it vibrates: play, or /pleɪ/.
It definitely does, which means we pronounce the past tense of “play” with the /d/ sound at the end: “played,” or /pleɪd/.
Here’s another example: agree, or /əˈgri/.
As you can tell, your voice box is vibrating, which means we add the /d/ sound to the end: “agreed,” or /əˈgrid/.
One last example: “try,” or /traɪ /. Do you feel your voice box vibrating?
That means we’ll pronounce the -ed ending as /d/: “tried,” or /traɪd/.
Practicing the -ed Ending after “T” or “D” Sounds: /ɪd/
Last, let’s talk about the two special cases where the -ed ending sounds like /ɪd/.
We pronounce the ending as /ɪd/ after the “t” and “d” sounds: /t/ and /d/.
This is because we need extra time to distinguish between the /t/ sound and the /d/ sound, or the /d/ sound and another /d/ sound.
Adding the extra syllable enables us to hear clearly that we’re using the past tense version of the verb, rather than the base form.
If you rush and try to say those sounds together, one after another, it just doesn’t sound right.
Remember, the /ɪd/ ending to the end of these verbs adds an extra syllable.
The other -ed endings don’t add an extra syllable to the end of the verb.
Instead, the sounds flow smoothly into the next.
But with the -ed ending after /t/ and /d/ sounds, you do need an extra syllable.
Here are some examples:
- invited: /ɪnˈvaɪtɪd/
- decided: /diˈsaɪdɪd/
- resided: /rɪˈzaɪdɪd/
Pay Attention to the Sound at the End of the Verb
Once again, I want to remind you to pay attention to the sound at the end of the verb, not the final letter!
We already saw some examples with the words “laugh” and “comb.” Those words sound different than they look.
Let’s consider the consonant “s.”
Sometimes it sounds like /s/, which is a voiceless sound, and sometimes it sounds like /z/, which is a voiced sound.
For example, on the word “close,” the final sound is actually “z”: /kloʊz/.
That means the past tense of the verbs is actually closed, or /kloʊzd/, with the /d/ sound at the end.
Practice the -ed Ending on Past Tense Verbs and Participial Adjectives
Now that you understand how to create the -ed endings on regular past tense verbs and participle adjectives, it’s time to practice!
Whenever you come across a new regular verb, take your hand and put it on your neck in order to see if your voice box is vibrating on the final sound.
In order to get more comfortable using these three different -ed endings, find a list of the 100 most common regular verbs in English.
You can practice saying the correct ending after each verb.
And remember, if you’re not sure if you’re pronouncing the verb correctly or you’re not exactly sure of the final sound in the verb, you can do a quick Google search, take a look at the phonetic spelling, see if it helps you out, or even listen to how the verb is pronounced.
Although this change may seem small, it makes a big difference in how easy it is for native speakers to understand you when you say regular past tense verbs.
Remember, we add the -ed ending to verbs automatically and we’re expecting to hear you use the right one too.
Yes, of course it will take some practice to start doing it consistently, but it will definitely help you sound more natural.
Now it’s your turn! Share a verb you use all the time and tell me what the sound should be at the end of the verb: /t/, /d/, or /Id/.
I’ll let you know how you did!
For more practice on voiced and voiceless sounds, check out my video on how to pronounce the -s and -es endings on plurals and verbs and the ‘s on possessives and contractions.