Past tense pronunciation

From Teflpedia

/t/ or /d/


needed /niːdɪd/



talked /tɔːkt/



paused /pɔːzd/

Past tense pronunciation refers to the pronunciation of regular verbs in the past or past participle form - that is, verb forms which end in "ed". There are three possible sounds which correspond to the written "ed": /ɪd/, /t/ and /d/.

Although the rules may seem difficult, they are, in fact, quite easy to teach and the following notes suggest how they might be presented in class.

Voiced and unvoiced

IPA vowels
æ ɑː
trap father - start
dress face square
ɪ ɪə
kit fleece near
ɒ əʊ ɔː
lot goat taught
ʊ ʊə
foot goose mature
juː jʊə
cute cure
ʌ ə ɜː
strut comma nurse
price mouth choice
IPA consonants
Normal sound: /b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, z/
 ʃ  ŋ
show church sing
ʒ  j 
usual judge you
θ ð s
think that see
IPA Stress
ˈ Primary stress
hotel /həʊˈtel/
ˌ Secondary stress
IPA Syllabification
. nitrate /ˈnaɪ.treɪt/, night-rate /ˈnaɪt.reɪt/

Before we begin we must consider “voiced” and “unvoiced” sounds.

Voiced sounds


First let’s identify some “voiced” sounds. Put your fingers on your throat and say the words open, call, seem and agree. You should feel some vibration in your throat at the end of these words.


Voiced sounds can be described or memorized. For some people memorization is easier than description or deduction.

The voiced sounds in English are all vowels and /b/, /d/, /ð/, /dʒ/, /g/, /j/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /r/, /v/, /w/, /z/ and /ʒ/.



Now some “unvoiced” sounds. Say push, help, like and reduce. You should feel no vibration in your throat at the end of these words.


Voiceless sounds can be described or memorized. For some people memorization is easier than description or deduction.

The voiceless sounds in English are /f/, /k/, /p/, /s/, /ʃ/, /t/, /tʃ/ and /θ/.

Voiced pronunciation of "-ed"

For all verbs that end with voiced sounds and the “ed” is pronounced /d/ (except for the voiced consonant /d/).

So now say the same words and just add the /d/ sound: opened, called, seemed and agreed.

Voiceless pronunciation of "-ed"

For all verbs that end with unvoiced consonants and the “ed” is pronounced /t/ (except for the voiceless consonant /t/).

These consonants are /f/, /k/, /p/, /s/, /ʃ/, /tʃ/ and /θ/.

Say the following: pushed, helped, liked and reduced. A /t/ sound is added at the end of these verbs.

Regular verbs ending with /t/ and /d/

What about words ending in “t” and “d”? When a verb already ends with the letter “t” or “d”, it is impossible to add another “d” or “t”. Try it.

Can you say “want t” or “include d”?

Consequently when a word ends with either a “d” or a “t” we have to pronounce the full “ed” sound as a separate syllable: /-dɪd/ or /-tɪd/. This is also true of regular verbs ending in "te" or "de" - don't forget that the final "e" of most words in English is NOT pronounced.

Say – wanted, lifted, needed, computed, estimated, and investigated.

The good news is that the difference between the “t” and “d” sound is not that great. The important thing is to differentiate between the “t” “d” pair on the one hand, and the set of verbs ending “ed”.


I opened the door, invited her in and asked her what she wanted. She walked in as if she owned the place and, when she replied, she indicated that she wanted to talk about buying my island.

I was very surprised and stated that my island was not for sale and that I had not planned to sell it. She persisted and insisted that I had responded without thinking and offered me 2,000,000 pounds.

I became annoyed and ordered her out. I demanded that she depart my island and I informed her that she wasn’t expected back.


Practice experimenting with these words:

Examples of regular verbs with the /t/ sound

  • /ft/: golfed, proofed, sniffed, stuffed
  • /kt/: cooked, hooked, lacked, licked, liked, looked, networked, picked, talked, walked, worked
  • /pt/: developed, helped, hopped, hoped, stopped
  • /st/: addressed, forced, increased, passed, produced, reduced
  • /ʃt/: brushed, crashed, distinguished, extinguished, finished, pushed, wished
  • /tʃt/: reached, touched, watched

The past tense of "ask" is pronounced either /æskt,AmE ɑːsktBrE/ or /æst,AmE, ɑːstBrE/.

The past tense of "jump" is pronounced either /dʒʌmpt/ or /dʒʌmt/.

Examples of regular verbs with the /d/ sound

  • vowel+/d/: agreed, allowed, applied, argued, denied, renewed, played, showed, stayed, tried
  • /dʒd/: changed, charged, managed
  • /gd/: cataloged,AmE catalogued, dragged, drugged
  • /ld/: called, pulled, traveled,AmE travelledBrE
  • /nd/: cleaned, earned, explained, gained, opened, owned, phoned, turned, warned
  • /ŋd/: belonged
  • /rd/ (in non-rhotic accents these verb end in a vowel sound + /d/): appeared, cared, offered, ordered, shared
  • /vd/: approved, believed, improved, lived, moved, received, resolved
  • /zd/: organised,BrE organized

Examples of regular verbs with the /ɪd/ sound

  • Finishing in "t" or "te": act, activate, adapt, compete, create, defeat, estimate, exist, infect, invite, lift, list, pollute, promote, reject, repeat, respect, result, shift, suggest, support, start, test, unite, want
  • Finishing in "d" or "de": add, blend, decide, defend, demand, divide, end, extend, include, invade, need, pretend, provide, succeed


aloud - allowed; band - banned; board - bored; bold - bowled; build - billed; duct - ducked; find - fined; guest - guessed; least - leased; mind - mined; mist - missed; ode - owed; pact - packed; past - passed; paste - paced; road - rowed; side - sighed; sword - soared; tide - tied; toad - towed; tract - tracked; wade - weighed; world - whirled;

Not past tenses

The following words are not past tenses (or not always are past tenses) and therefore the pronunciation rules for past tense do not necessarily apply.

  • aged /ˈeɪdʒɪd/ adj. very old; noun very old people (adj. of the age of and the past tense of the verb age are pronounced /eɪdʒd/)
  • beloved /bɪˈlʌvɪd/ (also /bɪˈlʌvd/)
  • blessed /ˈblesɪd/ adj. holy (past tense of bless is /blest/)
  • crooked /ˈkrʊkɪd/
  • learned /ˈlɜːrnɪd/ (past tense of learn is /lɜːrnd/, also learnt /lɜːrnt/)
  • legged /ˈleɡɪd/ (as in long-legged)
  • naked /ˈneɪkɪd/
  • rugged /ˈrʌɡɪd/
  • sacred /ˈseɪkrɪd/
  • wicked /ˈwɪkɪd/
  • wretched /ˈretʃɪd/


These adverbs look like a past tense and the suffix -ly; however their pronunciation ends in /-ɪdliː/.[1]

  • allegedly /əˈledʒɪdliː/
  • fixedly /ˈfɪksɪdliː/
  • markedly /ˈmɑːrkɪdliː/
  • supposedly /səˈpəʊzɪdliː/

If the verb doesn't end in a stressed vowel, the past tense pronunciation is used:

  • embarrassedly /ɪmˈbærəstliː/
  • determinedly /dɪˈtɜːrmɪndliː/

Teaching tips

Depending on the formality of each class setting, there are two excellent ways of making students physically aware of the sounds involved here:

  • The first, and by far the most “illustrative”, is to get the students to cover their ears with the palms of their hands and repeat after the teacher a series of sounds, e.g., /n/, /v/, /eɪ/ and /l/ (corresponding to open, live, play and call) and to elicit what they notice those sounds have in common. If they don’t come up with the fact that they “hear” a vibration, no problem. Now do the same with, e.g., /ʃ/, /p/, /k/, and /s/ (corresponding to push, help, like and reduce). Again ask what those sounds have in common. If by now they still don’t get it, get them to compare the two groups of sounds, and by now someone will be able to point it out and everyone else will concur.
  • The second way of doing it, slightly less effective, but possibly also more “acceptable”, especially in those more formal class settings, is to get the students to grasp – gently – their Adam’s apples (or equivalent) between forefinger and thumb and make those same sounds and feel the slight tingle/vibration (and/or absence of same, depending on whether the sounds are voiced or not).

For some students these two techniques will fail. In this case they should memorize /f, k, p, s, ʃ, tʃ/ and /θ/ as the voiceless consonants whose past tense adds /t/.

Anticipated pronunciation difficulties depending on L1

Preconceived ideas and other interferences from L1 obviously interfere in many cases with how students perceive - and pronounce - sounds/words in English. The following sections aims to point out some of the most typical difficulties teachers and students may encounter regarding pronunciation.


Many Spanish speakers pronounce the "-ed" ending as a separate syllable, regardless of the ending sound of the verb. Special effort must be made so that the students don't pronounce */ˈɑːskɪd/, */ˈpʊʃɪd/, */ɪkˈspleɪnɪd/ or */ˈrəʊɪd/ (for asked, pushed, explained and rowed).

See also


External links