The Regular Past: Teaching Only Two Pronunciations

James C. Jensen, Aka-Kara English

Quick guide

  • Key Words: Regular past tense
  • Learner English Level: Low
  • Learner Maturity: Junior high and above
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes
  • Activity Time: 20 minutes
  • Materials: Chalk and blackboard

Say liked with the past tense phoneme d instead of the proper t. The regular past tense t/d distinction is inconsequential; it makes no difference in comprehensibility. I would venture that it is minor compared to other pronunciation problems your students have, so I suggest reducing the regular past tense to two pronunciations. Tell your students to consider t and d interchangeable as long as they do not add an extra syllable, the Id, which should only be used for verbs that end in t or d. And importantly, students must not add o or u to the end of the word as is common with Japanese speakers.


Step 1: Start with an explanation in simple English of the regular past tense. Teach or review the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants. This should be easy because Japanese signals voicing in its writing (e.g., とど). Tell the students the verb suffix -ed is pronounced t with verbs that end in voiceless sounds and as d in verbs ending in voiced sounds (including vowels).

Step 2: Explain there is a natural reason for this and draw a chart of the consonants English has in common with Japanese on the board: P/B, T/D, S/Z, K/G. To show why the past tense has three pronunciations, and to explain that it is natural, demonstrate how the pronunciation works. That is, say a word such as tap, circle the P, and draw a line to the voiceless T. Say “tapped.” Repeat this with several examples and then do the same with words that end in voiced consonants. Circle G, a voiced consonant, and say “jogged” drawing a line to the voiced D. 

Step 3: Tell the students the t/d distinction is important, but that they need not worry about pronouncing it. As their English improves it will become natural. In the meantime, it does not matter! Stress how the distinction between t and d is an inconsequential mistake as long as they do not add an extra syllable, saying “tap-ped”, or even worse, “tap-ped-do” for example.

Step 4: Returning to the chart of consonants, show that the only verbs that add an extra syllable are those that end in t or d. Explain how a vowel is inserted between the last consonant and the final d, and, point out how Id is added to make a syllable. Land, for example, becomes lan-ded, and the two-syllable word vi-sit, becomes three syllables vi-si-ted.

Step 5: To check whether the students understand and can hear the difference between the voiced, unvoiced, and Id pronunciations, write some verbs on the board (Examples are given in the appendix). Write t, d, and Id on the board. Pronounce the words and have students put them into the correct column. Then have students pronounce them to each other and stress that t and d are interchangeable as long as the speaker does not add an unnecessary syllable before the suffix or an o or u after it.


The greatest benefit of presenting the regular past tense in this way is the relief it affords beginner level students. If you tell your students not to worry about the t and d, that it makes little difference, and that the distinction will come naturally as their English improves, it will go a long way in easing their anxiety.

The biggest concern a teacher might have is that mispronounced words may become fossilized. This should not be a concern. There is a phonetic reason for the different pronunciations and as the students improve those natural factors will come into play. 


The appendix is available frombelow.