Why is it that wanted has 2 syllables, but based has 1 syllable. The root of these words, want and base, are both monosyllablic. And both of these past tense forms end with the same -ed suffix:

Where does the extra syllable in wanted come from? Or perhaps, why does the extra syllable disappear in based?

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    crooked. Do you say crook't or crookèd ? Similarly wing'd or wingèd. And so on. I think use of the extra syllable has declined over time.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:17
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    The title mentions "looked". There is a Christmas carol with the line "They looked up" where there are separate notes for the two syllables of "lookèd".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:22
  • Learned, or learned? Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 18:11
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    You couldn't eliminate the extra syllable in "wanted" if you wand to.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 21:03
  • @JamesMcLeod Interesting observation! It stems from the fact that words like "learned,crooked, jagged, beloved" etc are adjectives and not verbs :) Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 23:21

2 Answers 2


The rule for regular past tense endings in English is to add the phoneme /d/ to the base of the word:

  • rule /ru:l/ --> ruled /ru:ld/

If the last sound in the base is unvoiced (doesn't involve vibration of the vocal cords), then we use an unvoiced version of the suffix, namely /t/ to match it:

  • tip /tɪp/ --> tipped /tɪpt/

However, some bases already end in /d/ or /t/. In such cases if we added another /d/ or /t/, the suffix would be inaudible. In any case, English does not allow geminate (double length) consonants, so such a word would be ungrammatical. We couldn't have the following for example, as the past form of mend:

  • */mendd/ ungrammatical

or the following as the past form of the verb fit:

  • */fɪtt/ (ungrammatical)

When the base of a regular verb ends in /d/ or /t/, to make the past tense form we insert a vowel, /ɪ/ before the suffix. Because this vowel is voiced (all vowels are voiced in English), the consonant after the vowel will be a /d/:

  • /mendɪd/ mended
  • /fɪtɪd/ fitted

The insertion of this vowel now means that the past tense suffix is clearly audible and prevents the words from breaking the phonotactic rules of English. Of course, the insertion of the vowel also results in the creation of an additional syllable.

Notice that this does not affect how we spell the word. In the spelling we just add the normal -ed written suffix to the base of the word regardless of whether the base of the word ends in /t/ or /d/. So the -ed ending results in the addition of a single phoneme but no extra syllable in most cases, but results in an additional syllable if the base ends in /d/ or /t/.


In some varieties of English the vowel which is inserted may be a schwa, /ə/ instead of the KIT vowel /ɪ/.

  • Is "canned" an exception here? There is no unvoiced sound in the base "can", the "n" is a vibrating sound. (edit: come to think of it, what about "travelled"?)
    – Flater
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 9:35
  • @Flater The regular pronunciation for canned would be /kænd/, where we see a notionally voiced /d/ following, as you say, a voiced /n/. So it would appear to be regular, I think. (We could compare the words cant and canned to bring out the difference, perhaps) Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 9:39
  • @Flater It's possible that you have razor-sharp ears. The notion of a voiced consonant in English is rather complicated. See this post here. To clearly hear whether the ending of canned is a /d/ or a /t/, you can try putting a word starting with a vowel after it. So for example, it's more clearly discernible in canned apples. Don't know if that answers your question at all? Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 9:49
  • I came to the same conclusion, but via a different route: I considered the audible difference between "canned" and "can't" (US pronunciation) :)
    – Flater
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 9:55
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    @Flater Ah, I would never have thought of that 'cuz British English doesn't use the same vowels for those! Nice one :) Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 9:57

I'll try and put it in a more natural and less grammatical way. the T and D sounds are almost identical, try saying them and see how they feel in your mouth, they come out of the same place. So when words end with the sound of T you would add the E sound (The same E sound that is quite prevalent in English when adding more syllables to words) and then the D, otherwise it would sound as if you are stuttering.

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