How to pronounce -ed at the end of a word

Hi, it’s Anita here from Magoosh English Speaking, here to clear up all your confusion about pronouncing English words that end in -ED. We’re talking about the past tense, past participles and adjectives that end in ED.

It can be a real challenge for English language learners to know how to pronounce that final ED because those two little letters can be pronounced in three different ways: as / id /, / t / or / d / Why we have three pronunciations, I don’t know. It’s not my fault, but it’s my problem today, so let’s tackle this together.

Now you may think that this isn’t such a big deal, just one short sound at the end of words that shouldn’t matter too much – are English speakers really going to notice? Chances are, they probably will.

A teaser

Just as an example of how mispronouncing ED could cause confusion, listen to the following sentence and try to transcribe it, write it down, as I speak:

I /yo͞osit/ to go to school on Fridays. Repeat.

So what do you have on paper?

A. “I used to go to school on Fridays.”

B. “I use it to go to school on Fridays.”

A or B. What would a native speaker have heard?

If you chose B, you’re right. How do we pronounce A correctly then? (read twice) and B again? Now we don’t know what IT is, but this is what a native speaker would have heard since U-S-E-D cannot be pronounced as us-/id/. Why not?

Voiced and voiceless consonants

Before we learn the different ways to pronounce ED, we must first know what voiced and voiceless consonants are.

To help us understand what these are, let’s look at the following 2 categories.

{insert on screen Voiced consonant sounds: B, G, J, L, M, N, R, V, Z ,TH}

I’ll ask you to put your hand on your throat and repeat after me as I pronounce these. (at end, explain that there are 2 pronunciations of TH, but for our purposes today we’ll focus on the voiced TH since that’s the once we usually find at the end of words)

What did you feel during the pronunciation of those sounds? A vibration, right? We feel those sounds physically vibrating in our throats with each of those sounds. Again that’s your group of VOICED consonants. Remember too that all VOWELS are voiced as well. We won’t go through all the vowel sounds in English, but remember that they fall into this category.

Now to compare, let’s jump to our second category of voiceless sounds.

{insert on screen Voiceless sounds: F, K, P, S, SH, CH}

​Again, keeping your hand on your throat, repeat after me.

Did you feel the difference? Any vibrations this time? No. Rather, more a release of air in most cases. In fact, if you had put your finger in front of your mouth, you would have felt a slight puff of air with the release of those sounds (demonstrate with F, P, SH). So these are our voiceless sounds in English, no vibration in the throat with these.

Now that we’ve distinguished between voiced and voiceless sounds, let’s use this as a basis for categories that will determine final ED pronunciation.

Since we add ED at the end of words, it’s important to look at the final sound in the root word to see if it’s voiced or voiceless. It’s that final sound that will determine whether we pronounced the ED that follows as D, T or ID. Let’s generate a word list here to demonstrate

We’ll start with our voiceless consonant sounds – remember, no vibration. After these sounds, adding an ed, that ed will take on a T sound. Let’s demonstrate (screen shows word lists)

/T/

Voiceless consonant sounds:

p, f, k, s, sh, ch, th

Look

Watch

Finish

Notice

Purchase

Puff

Relax

Laugh

Ask

Step

/D/

Voiced consonant sounds & all vowels

b, v, g, z, j, th, l, m, n, r

Clog

Weather

Open

Close

Summarize

Achieve

Advise

Glue

Annoy

Schedule

Just a quick note about the example we before: I used to go to school on Fridays.

Now the verb USE on its own follows the rules we just learned. Use – Z – add the D sound—> USED. When the same word is used with TO, however, the final ED sound takes on the T sound of the consonant that follows.

The /id/ sound

Now you may have noticed that we only have 2 final ED sounds presented here, while we said there were 3. Before you panic, let me assure you that this is the easiest category. Here’s the rule {insert T or D + /ID/}: when an ED is added to any word that finishes with a T or D sound, that final ED will sound like /ID/. That’s it. Let’s try just a few so that you’re comfortable with these {insert list of T and D words on screen}

/ID/

T and D

Harvest

Bombard

Elevate

Conflict

Treat

Bread

Conduct

Experiment

Conclude

So there we have our three categories, VOICELESS sounds are followed /T/ sound, VOICED sounds are followed by D sound, and D or T sound is followed by the /ID/ sound.

(Audio recording for screen:) Let’s try some of these ED words in sentences to see how they link to other words. Listen as I read the following paragraph:

Yesterday was a disaster! At the office, I tried out my new coffee mug, but that morning I bumped into my coworker while carrying it and spilled coffee all over her dress! She washed most of it out, but the coffee stained her dress hem. I tried to help, but she got upset. I used to drink coffee in my old spill-proof mug, and I realized at that moment that I shouldn’t have tossed it out.

Pay special attention here to how the ED sounds link to the vowels that follow.

Tried out. There no need to make a full stop on your D sound here, but carry it over to the “ou” for a natural pronunciation. Same applies for bumped into, realized at, tossed it. In North America, don’t be surprised if some of those final EDs pronounced as T sounds sound more like D sounds before a vowel. Why? You’ve no doubt noticed how North Americans tend to reduce T sounds in the middle of words to Ds. Think of little > liddle. Better > bedder. The same thing happens here with a t sound at the end of a word that links to a vowel. Tossed- the final s sound is voiceless and so the ed takes on a T sound. But when we add a vowel sound immediately after? Tossed it> tosdit. Same with bumped into. Bumpt > bumpdinto.

Again, our exception USED TO makes an appearance, but notice how another typical ed+t combination is seen in tried to, we hear that D sound before the next t in to is pronounced.

Do you have all that? You’ll notice there’s a quick quiz in the top right corner of your screen for you to check just how well you have understood and can apply these rules. Try it out!

Quiz Time

invest

Bluff

Relax

Challenge

Laugh

Ski

Weigh

Add

Change

impress

Answer key

invest /id/

bluff/t/

relax/t/

challenge/d/

laugh/t/

ski/d/

weigh/d/

add/id/

change/d/

impress/t/

Exceptions

Of course it wouldn’t be English if there weren’t exceptions, so here’s a short list of words you’ll want to be careful with since they don’t follow the rules presented.

The good news is that there are two factors which make remembering these a bit easier. This list of exceptions is composed of 1. -ed words used as adjectives and 2. Their final EDs are all pronounced as /id/. Now I’ve tried to fit all of these exceptions into one sentence:

With dogged determination, an aged learned woman saved her beloved ragged wretched cat from the wicked naked crooked thief on the jagged rugged cliff on that blessed day.

Another tip that might help you is remembering that most of these adjectives have either G or K before the ED.

Remember that the /ID/ pronunciation applies only when these are used as adjectives. And the pronunciation sometimes changes depending on what you’re describing (example a learn/ID/ scholar but learn/D/ behaviors). In their verb form if they have one, they play by the rules:

I learn/d /my ABCs

He bless/t/ me when I sneezed

The wine ag/d/ well.

Now I may have forgotten one or two exceptions to the rules in this sentence, so feel free to use the comment section to add or ask about ED sounds you think break the rules. Some of these may depend on regional pronunciation as well.

Now you’re set to impress everyone with your fantastically correct ED pronunciation. Of course, it will take a bit of practice, but let us know how it goes. If you want to learn more about how to improve your English pronunciation, make yourself understood and make a good impression, book a Magoosh English Speaking class.

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