How to pronounce past tense endings

Today’s mini English lesson is about how to pronounce ed endings.

These are common in regular past simple verbs, regular past participles, and also lots of adjectives.

When you see an -ed ending, there are three different possible pronunciations, and we can divide these into two main categories.

Here are some verbs from the first category:

  • ‘want’ becomes ‘wanted’
  • ‘need’ becomes ‘needed’

In this category, we add a syllable when we pronounce the verb. So to ‘want’, a one-syllable word, we add ‘ed’ making a two-syllable word: wanted.

It’s the same principle for ‘need’. ‘Need’ is a one syllable word. When you add ‘ed’ it becomes ‘needed’, a two-syllable word. Here are some other example verbs in this category:

  • wait becomes waited
  • recommend becomes recommended

All of these verbs end with ‘d’ or ‘t’. If the final letter of the verb is ‘d’ or ‘t’, you can add a syllable in the past simple. This syllable is ‘ed’. That’s the first category.

Let’s look at the second category.

Here are some example verbs:

  • play – played
  • live – lived

We do not add another syllable to these verbs. For example, if you say ‘play-ed’, it’s wrong. Remember, the only verbs that add an extra syllable end in ‘t’ or ‘d’. All other verbs keep the same number of syllables. Here are some examples:

  • Close is one syllable, and the past is ‘closed’. When you say it, it remained one syllable.
  • Focus is two syllables, and the past is focused. The pronunciation remains two syllables.

The little difference in this category is that, although we don’t add an extra syllable, we do add an extra sound to make the past simple. 

Here you have two options, the sound could be ‘d’ or ‘t’.

Let’s compare those two verbs again:

  • close
  • focus

‘Focus’ ends with an s sound like a snake. When you say ‘sssss’, if you put your hand on your throat, you can’t feel anything. This means it is unvoiced. The verb close ends with a ‘zzzzzz’. When you say it, if you put your hand on your throat, you can feel vibrations and this means it is voiced.

  • If the sound is unvoiced then you add a ‘t’ sound to make the past.
  • If the sound is voiced, you add a ‘d’ sound to make the past

If this all sounds a little complicated, the main thing to remember is not to add an extra syllable unless the verb ends in ‘t’ or ‘d’. In all other cases, you should keep the same number of syllables and just add the sound ‘t’ or ‘d’.

We hope this has helped you pronounce verbs with ‘ed’ endings! If you’d like to practise your pronunciation, try out some of these exercises.

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