why the adjective "learned" sounds differently when describing "behavior" and "man"?

  • a learned behavior (d sound)
  • a learned man (id sound)

Many thanks

  • What kind of an explanation are you looking for? I could give you a historical summary of how that came to be, but that wouldn't really answer the question "why". As with most "why" questions about language, the answer is "because that's how we say it". – Colin Fine Mar 4 at 11:37
  • I'm looking for a rule/guideline so I can choose the right pronunciation when I bump into an adjective ending with 'ed'. – SunnySideDown Mar 4 at 13:15
  • You're also assuming that they are pronounced differently. I know the two different pronunciations, but I've not only more often heard the second pronounced the same as the first, but also pronounce the second the same as the first myself. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Mar 4 at 17:00
  • @JasonBassford the question is not tagged BrE but here it is usual for there to be a distinct difference - two syllables in the second case. To SunnySideDown, the -ed used in the past tense is not generally pronounced separately. – Weather Vane Mar 4 at 17:43

The uses are different.

In the first case it is not the behaviour which did the learning; the behaviour was learned by someone.

Good table manners are a learned behaviour

In the second case it was the man who did the learning; he has learned something.

The physics professor is a learned man

It is not unreasonable for them to be pronounced differently, as they do not mean the same thing. This is called a heteronym, another example is attribute.

  • Or, more as a rule: learned with two syllables means "highly educated, scholarly". In all other uses, its monosyllabic. – Colin Fine Mar 4 at 17:17
  • Could you think about other 'ed' adjectives of that sort, besides 'learned'? I mean, that has two syllables 'version' and a monosyllabic 'version'. – SunnySideDown Mar 5 at 7:05
  • Yes, words like dented, scented which depend on the previous consonant, since they can't easily be pronounced without a distinct syllable. Howewer there are also differences like fetched (silent e) and wretched (pronounced). I don't know of any rule, but the pronounced versions are words which are adjectives rather than past participles. – Weather Vane Mar 5 at 9:41

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