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Why are non-native speakers so easy to recognize?
Maybe because of some cultural characteristics, the way they dress, or because of their joy? While these definitely may be some characteristics that mark foreigners abroad, do not forget pronunciation!
When speaking in English, it is necessary to take into account the many exceptions in pronunciation and to never take for granted that you have learned all of the rules. In some cases letters that are written are not pronounced. In others, the exact same suffix can be pronounced in different ways.
Below, we present to you some of the most common pronunciation errors. Read this article and keep it in mind when you are speaking English, and you will be able to blend in seamlessly with English-speakers.
The -Ed Suffix on Regular Verbs
Regular past tense verbs in English are formed by adding the suffix “-ed” to the base form of the verb. Even if all regular verbs are formed the same way, they are not all pronounced in the same way. Depending on the syllable that precedes it, the -ed suffix can be pronounced in three different ways: /id/, /d/, or /t/.
This pronunciation is used when “-ed” is preceded by a “d” or a “t”.
need → needed
end → ended
start → started
want → wanted
Regular verbs that end in a voiceless consonant sound receive this pronunciation. Some voiceless consonants include: /f/ /k/ /p/ /s/ /t/ /sh/ y /ch/.
/f/ laugh → laughed
/p/ stop → stopped
/sh/ wash →washed
/k/ like → liked
/s/ miss → missed
/ch/ watch → watched
When regular verbs end in a voiced consonant sound, they have this pronunciation. Some voiced consonants are: /b/ /g/ /v/ /z/ /m/ /n/ /l/ /th/ /r/.
/b/ grab → grabbed
/g/ beg → begged
/n/ listen → listened
/l/ kill → killed
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In English, there are some consonants that appear in the spelling of words that are not pronounced. For a non-native speaker this can be a difficult concept to grasp, since in many languages, all letters are pronounced. For example, you have definitely come across words in English where the “h” is not pronounced. The same applies to many other consonants. Let’s look at some examples.
As you know, the aspirated “h” in English is always pronounced. Here is a list of words that begin with a silent “h”.
honour (UK) / honor (USA)
To this list must be added words derived from those mentioned above, such as hourglassand honesty . From the grammatical point of view, words that begin with a silent “h” require the article “an” instead of “a.” There are also some words that have a silent “h” that is not in the beginning of the word, such as: ache and stomach.
Again, there is no exact rule. There is simply a list of words that begin with “p” followed by a consonant where the “p” is not pronounced. Here are those words:
To this list must be added the word receipt , where the “p” is not at the beginning of the word, is followed by a consonant, but is not pronounced.
There are many other silent letters in English and the only way to recognize them is to memorize them. In general, these are consonants followed by other consonants. Here are some examples: doubt , subtle , assign , design , knife , knight .
The combination “mb” is an exception to the way that most consonant clusters with silent letters work. In this case, it is the second letter, “b”, that isn’t pronounced. This rule only applies, however, when the “mb” occurs at the end of a word. Here are a few examples:
The Stress on Derived Words
For some nouns or adjectives that were derived from a verb, the stress passes from a later syllable to the first syllable. This should be paid close attention to since the visual similarity of the words can be misleading.
implant (v) implant (n)
project (v) project (n)
upgrade (v) upgrade (n)
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The ending “ough”
The ending ough is tricky because it may be pronounced one of four ways, and there’s no rule to help you determine which it is.
Which words should be pronounced which way has to be memorized. The four pronunciations are:
1. /o/ In some cases, the “ugh” is silent, and only the “o” is pronounced. Words that are pronounced like this include:
2. /aυ/ “Ough” may be pronounced the way “ow” is pronounced in words like “now.” Examples of words that are pronounced this way include:
3. /Λf/ Sometimes, “ough” is pronounced like “uff.” This is the case with words like:
4. /ρf/ Finally, some words that include “ough” are pronounced as though they were spelled “off.” Examples of this include:
The combination “aught”
The letter combination “aught” is pronounced /ɔ:t/; that is, as though it were spelled “awt.” This combination appears in words such as:
The Combination “Sch”
When the letter combination “sch” appears at the beginning of a word, it is usually pronounced /sk/. Some common words that include this combination are:
Now it’s time for you to put your new knowledge into practice. How do you think the following words are pronounced?
Answers and explanations:
- /eIkT/ In the word “ached”, the h is silent, and a /k/ sound is pronounced. Since the word ends with a voiceless consonant, when it becomes past tense the ending sound is pronounced /T/. The result should sound like “baked” or “caked” without the beginning consonant.
- /daυt-ID/ In the word “doubted”, the “b” is silent. The letter “t” is pronounced, however, so you apply the rule for words ending in “d” or “t” when forming the past tense.
- /ski:m-D/ The word “schemed” begins with “sch”, which is pronounced /sk/. Since the last sound in the word is a voiced consonant, /m/, the past tense is pronounced by adding the sound /D/.
- /rekɔ:d-ID/ Since “record” may be a noun or a verb, the stress must go on the second syllable to indicate that it is a verb. Since the word ends in a “d”, when forming the past tense, the letters “ed” (the sound /ID/) are added. So “recorded” should sound like “re-kord-id.”