How to pronounce words ending in ED

It can be a real challenge for English language learners to know how to pronounce words ending in 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 to explain here, so let’s get to it!

First, does it really matter? Just one short sound at the end of words  – are English speakers really going to notice? In many cases, your “ed” pronunciation could make the difference between them understanding you or not. To actually hear examples of the ed sounds pronounced correctly, take a look at this video.

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.

Voiced consonant sounds: B, G, J, L, M, N, R, V, Z ,TH*

*Note: 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.

Try putting your hand on your throat as you produce the sound that each of those letters makes.

What did you feel? 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.

Voiceless sounds: F, K, P, S, SH, CH

Again, keeping your hand on your throat, produce the sound each letter or combination makes.

Did you feel the difference? Any vibrations this time? No. 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. 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 /ɪd/. Let’s generate a word list here to demonstrate.

ED as /t/

We’ll start with our voiceless consonant sounds.  Remember, no vibration with these. After these sounds, the final -ed will take on a /t/ sound.

Examples of words that end in voiceless consonant sounds:

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

Try pronouncing these words in the past tense by adding an ed.  To check your pronunciation, go back to the video above to see if you were right!

  • Look.             Looked
  • Watch           Watched
  • Finish            Finished
  • Notice            Noticed
  • Purchase       Purchased
  • Puff                Puffed
  • Relax              Relaxed
  • Laugh             Laughed
  • Ask                  Asked
  • Step                Stepped

 

ED as /d/

Voiced consonant sounds & all vowels

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

Again, try pronouncing these words in the past tense by adding an ed.  To check your pronunciation, go back to the video above to see if you were right!

  • Clog                 Clogged
  • Weather         Weathered
  • Open               Opened
  • Close               Closed
  • Summarize    Summarized
  • Achieve           Achieved
  • Advise             Advised
  • Glue                 Glued
  • Annoy             Annoyed
  • Schedule         Scheduled

ED as /id/

Ready for the third pronunciation of ED?  Yes, there’s more!  Before you panic, let me assure you that this is the easiest category when learning how to pronounce words ending in ED. Here’s the rule: when an ED is added to any word that finishes with a /t/ or /d/ sound, that final ED will sound like /ɪd/. That’s it. Let’s try just a few so that you’re comfortable with these words. Again, check the video to hear the correct pronunciation.

  • Harvest         Harvested
  • Bombard      Bombarded
  • Elevate          Elevated
  • Conflict         Conflicted
  • Treat              Treated
  • Bread             Breaded
  • Conduct         Conducted
  • Experiment   Experimented
  • Conclude       Concluded

So there we have our three categories of ED pronunciation:

  1. VOICELESS sounds are followed by the /t/ sound
  2. VOICED sounds are followed by /d/ sound
  3.  /d/ or /t/ sounds are followed by the /ɪd/ sound.

How does word linking affect the ed sound?

Let’s try some of these ED words in sentences to see how they link to other words. Read the following paragraph out loud and listen to the reading in the video to compare your pronunciation to the model:

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.

To learn more about how to link sounds naturally in English (especially /d/ and /t/ sounds!), check out these articles on connected speech:

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 /ɪd/.

Let’s try to fit 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.

Again, check out the video for the correct pronunciation of that sentence! Another tip that might help you is remembering that most of these adjectives end in either g or k before the ED.

Remember that the /ɪd/ pronunciation applies only when these are used as adjectives. And the pronunciation sometimes changes depending on what you’re describing (example a “learn/ɪd/ 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.

Need help?

Now you’re set to impress everyone with your knowledge of how to pronounce words ending in ED! Of course, it will take a bit of practice. If you want to perfect your pronunciation of these ED words work on other pronunciation challenges you may have, make sure to sign up for SpeakUp, a premium English speaking program that gives you tons of speaking opportunities, feedback from a professional ESL teacher, an inspiring English learning community, and a complete curriculum with a fluency guarantee!

Anita Collins

Anita Collins

Anita is a long-time English teacher and language enthusiast from Canada, currently living in the multilingual city of Montreal. She majored in linguistics, dabbled in translation, and has been teaching students from all over the world for over a decade. She now spends each morning trying to balance her two loves: planning the next trip and spoiling her beagle. The rest of her day she spends on curriculum design and language classes, with the beagle underfoot.
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