Sometimes English can leave us scratching our heads in confusion. It can be complicated to learn rules and exceptions, irregular spellings and advanced tenses. However, sometimes a very common problem can have very a simple solution. Take for example regular verb endings. One of the most common mistakes by English learners of all levels is mispronouncing the -ed sound on the end of verbs. This is the sound we encounter when we use regular past simple and past participle verbs.
- Base form: cook
- Past simple: cooked
- Past participle: cooked
- Base form: love
- Past simple: loved
- Past participle: loved
- Base form: start
- Past simple: started
- Past participle: started
The problem lies in the fact that we are pronouncing each of these -ed endings in different ways. So, how do we know which pronunciation to use for these and for all other regular verbs? Let’s introduce our three friends Kurt, Fred and David.
Read this name out loud. How does it end? We can hear the /t/ sound quite clearly at the end of Kurt. It is a “sharp” sound and it’s almost like a hi-hat on a drum kit.
Now read out this name. The final sound is certainly different from the /t/ in Kurt. It’s more of a “dull” sound, almost like the kick-drum of a drum kit.
Finally, read out this last name. David has two syllables and the second syllable is a vowel and a consonant together.
So, why are these names important? Well, all of our regular verb endings are pronounced in one of these three ways. Let’s take a look at our three example verbs again, this time with the correct pronunciation of the -ed sound listed along with it.
- cooked /t/
- loved /d/
- started /id/
We can see here that cooked ends with the sharp /t/ sound, loved ends with the dull /d/ sound and started ends with the added /id/ syllable.
A common mistake
Many students are still unsure of how to pronounce the endings of many verbs. For example, they may see the verb loved and decide to use the /id/ pronunciation like this: luv-id. This adds an extra syllable to the word when it is not needed. Similarly, students might also mispronounce loved by using the /t/ ending, saying it as luv-t. Let’s start by looking at a more in-depth list of regular verbs.
Take a look at the /id/ verbs and read out their base forms. What do you notice? Complete, decide, waste, hunt and mend all end in a /d/ or /t/ sound (ignore the spellings that end in the letter e since we’re just focusing on the pronunciation here).
This is our first rule:
Rule #1: We add the extra syllable /id/ to all base verbs that themselves end in the /d/ or /t/ sound.
Voiced and unvoiced sounds
Now that we’ve covered the verbs that have /id/ added to them in the past simple and past participle form, let’s look at the verbs to which we just add the /d/ or /t/ sounds. The differences between these two types of verbs are more complicated to learn, but much simpler to put into practice. Simply put, we can split these two types of verbs into two distinct groups: voiced sounds and unvoiced sounds.
A voiced sound means that our throat vibrates when we pronounce the sound. Say the word love. Now put your finger up to your throat and say it again. Can you feel your throat vibrate as you make the sound? This is a voiced sound.
Now pronounce the word fix. Again, put your finger up to your throat to feel if it vibrates when you make the sound. It doesn’t. This is an unvoiced sound.
Practice with the base forms of the /d/ and /t/ verbs listed in the previous section. Read them aloud with your finger against your throat and feel whether the sound vibrates or not.
This leads us to our second rule:
Rule #2: We add the /d/ sound to voiced verbs.
And our third and final rule:
Rule #3: We add the /t/ sound to unvoiced verbs.
In many ways, the differences between the /d/ and /t/ endings are much easier to learn. In fact, it is quite rare that students will mispronounce these sounds. For example, we add the /d/ sound to the voiced verb play when we use it in the regular past form. If we mispronounce the past form with a /t/ ending, it sounds like the noun plate. There are other verbs and nouns that highlight this difference.
- joined / joint
- planned / plant
- tried / trite
Some regular verbs even have two forms with two different spellings (both correct), and use the /d/ and /t/ sound respectively. However, please note that the -t forms listed below are generally not used in the United States.
- learned / learnt
- burned / burnt
- spelled / spelt
So, we’ve now got three simple rules for working out how to pronounce our regular verb endings. Let’s take one last look at them:
- We add the extra syllable /id/ to all base verbs that themselves end in the /d/ or /t/ sound.
- We add the /d/ sound to voiced verbs.
- We add the /t/ sound to unvoiced verbs.
Now it’s time to practice what we’ve learnt. Study the verbs in this story and decide which of the verb endings we use with each one. Then read the story out loud to practice the different sounds.
A funny thing happened to me yesterday while I was walking home from work. I bumped into an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since my school days. I recognised him instantly because he’s incredibly tall and has striking blond hair. Anyway, he told me he’d just arrived back in town to celebrate his mother’s birthday. He wanted to know where he could buy her a good birthday present. I remembered his mum well from when I was a child and she was always very interested in antiques; old vases, clocks and stuff like that. I told him I knew just the place! There’s an antique store right near my house so I suggested we walk down there and have a look around.
Anyway, this antique store is quite large so after we’d entered we ended up separating and looking at different things. I noticed these two beautiful antique mirrors. They had ornate gold frames and looked like they were really old. I don’t know anything about antiques so I tried to find someone who worked there to help me. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be anyone to ask. All of a sudden I saw an elderly woman who was inspecting some glass figurines from a display cabinet. She was holding them up to the light and reading the manufacturer’s mark on the underside of them. She seemed to know what she was looking for so I decided to see if she could help me. I politely asked if she knew anything about the mirrors in the corner. She glanced over at them and broke into a smile. “They’re lovely,” she said. “Edwardian, I think. Real craftsmanship.” I thanked her for her advice and walked to find my old friend. “I think I’ve found the perfect gift,” I told him.
I took him back to where I’d found the mirrors. He liked them as well. He asked me if I knew anything about them. “Well this lady over here told me they were Edwardian,” I answered, pointing to the helpful woman who’d been so keen on them. He turned around to see who I was talking about. “Hi mum!” he exclaimed in surprise. It turns out his mum had decided to spend the afternoon looking for some new antiques and I had been asking her advice on her own birthday present!
Hero Image by Hitchster (CC BY 2.0)