12

How are they different in pronunciation?

In other words, how can one recognise the difference purely by sound?

17
  • 4
    In production of the sounds they are slightly different (there is the lightest flap for the '-ed') but on the receiving end they might be indistinguishable. Of course, context and expectation would show that they are different in meaning.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 13:41
  • 2
    In practice, there is no difference in pronunciation and the addressee is expected to infer the tense, if necessary. Tense is not very important in English (there's only the two tenses, and half the verbs are tenseless infinitives or gerunds anyway) and the difference rarely matters. If it does, one can enunciate more carefully. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:34
  • 25
    Perhaps it would be helpful if people could indicate where they're from…?  I'm seeing lots of claims here that there's no difference in sound — but that doesn't match my experience at all.  I'm pretty sure that I (native Englishman) make a clear distinction, and that most people hereabouts would have to be speaking very rapidly/sloppily for me not to hear a difference.
    – gidds
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 23:07
  • 4
    @gidds Please listen to all these real-world examples. Notice how it is there in some but absent in others. All are native speakers, some speaking more carefully and others speaking more naturally.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 2:39
  • 2
    The resource provided by @tchrist is excellent - of the first 10 examples, I hear a fairly clear "ed" in the first two, and basically no "ed" at all in the next eight. (#11 and forward are not good examples for obvious reasons.) These are all American speakers (except perhaps one). The difference may be regional or cultural, but may also be personal.
    – cruthers
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 17:18

5 Answers 5

22

The pronunciation can vary with the English accent of the speaker. While many may pronounce "cook" and "cooked" followed by "the" in the same manner, as an EN_AU speaker, I would

  • in slow speech say "cook't the turkey", with two adjacent consonant sounds, or

  • in ordinary speech, glottalize the 't' sound used to pronounce 'ed', also known as "swallowing the 't'". This may sound almost identical to "cook" but it feels quite different to say and I suspect does not sound exactly the same.

See also T-glottalization on Wikipedia.

7
  • 2
    At least my flavor of EN_US (AmE) is the same as the first bullet at all speeds. Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 7:27
  • 1
    I find it impossible to glottalize the ending of cooked as you describe. I tried reading "cooked the" in lots of ways and finally noticed what I think you mean, I would say that the "the" is launched from a glottal stop instead of ending the "cooked" in a glottal stop.
    – minseong
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 12:30
  • 1
    There is also (for me at least, south african English), a distinctly longer pause after "cooked" as compared to "cook" before the following "the" gets spoken.
    – PcMan
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 12:49
  • 3
    I'm from the southwestern US, and when I say that phrase, even if I try to go fast, I find myself hesitating between "cookt" and "the" (which comes out like "thuh"). It comes out like "t'thuh" and it feels weird to try to eliminate the slight pause. The t in 'cookt' is audible, but it's probably subtle if you didn't grow up hearing english. Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 14:23
  • 1
    In Northern BrE we glottalise everything (as many people completely fail to accurately characterise when they impersonate the accent;) - it's rarer to hear the 't' actually pronounced, so this answer certainly works for me. There is never really a 't' in "I'm off to't pub", nor in "I cook't t'chicken" - two glottals in a row if you listen carefully.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 14:34
16

John Lawler in a comment wrote:

In practice, there is no difference in pronunciation and the addressee is expected to infer the tense, if necessary. Tense is not very important in English (there's only the two tenses, and half the verbs are tenseless infinitives or gerunds anyway) and the difference rarely matters. If it does, one can enunciate more carefully.

Let me try to elaborate on that if I can. There will be times that both cook the and cooked the will end up sounding the same or almost the same in actual speech.

That doesn’t mean it is somehow impossible for native speakers to pronounce them differently. We certainly can when we want to do so or are specifically directed to do so. It’s just that it doesn’t always work out that way in all possible utterances, which is why we do not attempt to rely on sound alone to know which of the two was said.

It’s very easy for phonemic /t/ from cooked the to be phonetically realized as any of:

  • an emphatically/intentionally aspirated alveolar stop [tʰ]
  • to an unaspirated alveolar stop [t], possibly without an audible release [t̚]
  • to any of a voiced alveolar stop [d] or a flap [ɾ] or a glottal stop [ʔ] to outright deletion
  • to an affricate made up of a weak dental stop coarticulated with the following dental fricative such as [t̪͡ð] or [d̪͡ð]

All of those versions are perfectly natural in English due to the phonological effects seen in connected speech, especially when fast or casual or both.

Because of all this you cannot invariably use the sound alone to know which one has been said.

Native speakers therefore never need to hear /t/ represented physically to know which tense was used here. We have other mechanisms that kick in automatically to tell us which is which, and when that happens, we don’t even notice that there was no literal [t] sound there.

We still know they said cooked the and think nothing of it, so much so that when asked immediately afterwards which we heard, we often feel that we heard a /t/ realized even without a [t] there. This is what happens when mapping phones to phonemes in listening.

Real Examples of This

You can and should listen to many speakers saying cooked the books in Youtube videos here. Each of the 22 clips starts with the sentence that includes cooked the books. Hit the "play next" arrow at the bottom right to skip to the next one each time.

picture of controls for player

Notice how many do not make a /t/ there? Some do and some don’t. It simply is not audible in those who don’t. Many of those speakers are not "pronouncing" any /t/ there in real speech.

But you always know which they said, too, even when you can’t hear it. That’s how you learn this.


Boring Details

/ðeɪˈkʊktðəˈguːs/ → [ðeˈkʰʊk͉̬̚d̪͡ðə̆ˈguːs]

Theory aside, in practice when spoken quickly or casually by a native speaker in normal conversation where the fast-speech rules of connected speech apply — not dictionary pronunciations! — there is no difference between how those two sound.

If someone does not understand you and asks which one you meant, you can go slower and enunciate the sounds more carefully and deliberately. But that isn’t how connected speech is usually realized.


For example, here is how They cooked the goose, which in phonemic dictionary notation is simply /ðeɪˈkʊktðəˈguːs/, really works out in casual connected speech: (the decoding key is at the bottom of this post)

[ {allegro ðeˈkʰʊk͉̬̚d̪͡ðə̆ˈguːs allegro} ]

See how different that phonetic notation is from the phonemic notation you might be expecting to hear? Trying to hear some theoretical difference to figure out which one was said isn’t going to work here. You need other cues.

To know what was said, you do not try to hear a difference that is not there. That is not how native speakers determine which one was said. Sounds that occur in isolated citation forms are nothing at all like what people actually say. So we use other cues based on our lifelong experience of what makes sense here.

That’s why native speakers do not rely principally upon pronunciation in instances such as these when in their minds they assign one or the other sequence. Such sequences never exist in isolation in actual connected speech. They occur only with surrounding context. On rare occasion they may initially guess wrong before later clues appear; that usually happens so quickly they don't even notice it.

Under the fast-speech rules (also called allegro rules) that apply to all natural speech, many complex reductions occur both within a word and across word boundaries. No one puts convenient gaps from one word to the next in real speech. Consonant clusters are always simplified one way or another, but what happens in one utterance will often happen differently in another utterance of that same sequence even when it’s the same speaker in both cases.

Like the consonant clusters in sixths, twelfths, and on both ends of strengths, the abstract phonemic sequence /ktð/ always changes and simplifies phonetically. Your tongue can’t move quickly enough nor carefully enough to separate all those sounds. You certainly have no aspiration or gaps here in connected casual speech. The velar stop and the alveolar stop will likely fuse or be co-articulated, and they will have no audible release.

Consider what happens when you speak these two example sentences aloud at the speed of normal conversation such as you might hear in a book review given over the radio:

  1. Much more than a cookbook, Jennifer McLagan’s Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal delves into the rich geographical, historical, and religious roles of nose-to-tail cooking.

  2. In My Goose is Cooked: The Continuation of a West Texas Ranch Woman’s Story, we follow a century in the life of pioneer rancher Hallie Crawford Stillwell in the Big Bend country.

In (1), native speakers would always automatically assign the bare form of the verb because they know that’s an infinitive use because of the word to that comes before it. In (2), they would likewise automatically assign the past tense to the verb because the is that precedes is doesn’t license another possibility.

These are just two very simple examples. Other context will provide their own distinct clues. You have to practice listening until your brain makes predictive determinations like these automatically.


Key

The notation [{allegro ... allegro}] is the specific prosodic notation used to indicate fast speech. The detailed International Phonetic Alphabet symbols used there were:

[ðeˈkʰʊk͉̬̚d̪͡ðə̆ˈguːs]

 ð  voiced dental fricative             U+00F0  LATIN SMALL LETTER ETH
 e  close-mid front unrounded vowel     U+0065  LATIN SMALL LETTER E
 ˈ  primary stress                      U+02C8  MODIFIER LETTER VERTICAL LINE
 kʰ voiceless velar plosive             U+006B  LATIN SMALL LETTER K
    aspirated                           U+02B0  MODIFIER LETTER SMALL H
 ʊ  near-close near-back rounded vowel  U+028A  LATIN SMALL LETTER UPSILON
 k͉̬̚   voiceless velar plosive            U+006B  LATIN SMALL LETTER K
    weak articulation                   U+0349  COMBINING LEFT ANGLE BELOW
    voiced                              U+032C  COMBINING CARON BELOW
    not audibly released                U+031A  COMBINING LEFT ANGLE ABOVE
 d̪͡    voiced alveolar plosive           U+0064  LATIN SMALL LETTER D
    dental                              U+032A  COMBINING BRIDGE BELOW
    affricate or double articulation    U+0361  COMBINING DOUBLE INVERTED BREVE
 ð  voiced dental fricative             U+00F0  LATIN SMALL LETTER ETH
 ə̆  mid-central vowel                   U+0259  LATIN SMALL LETTER SCHWA
    extra-short                         U+0306  COMBINING BREVE
 ˈ  primary stress                      U+02C8  MODIFIER LETTER VERTICAL LINE
 g  voiced velar plosive                U+0067  LATIN SMALL LETTER G
 uː close back rounded vowel            U+0075  LATIN SMALL LETTER U
    long                                U+02D0  MODIFIER LETTER TRIANGULAR COLON
 s  voiceless alveolar sibilant         U+0073  LATIN SMALL LETTER S

The phonemic notation, which is “never” what natives really say in connected casual speech spoken at a good clip, only in unnaturally carefully articulated citation form, decodes to:

/ðeɪˈkʊktðəˈguːs/

 ð  voiced dental fricative             U+00F0  LATIN SMALL LETTER ETH
 e  close-mid front unrounded vowel     U+0065  LATIN SMALL LETTER E
 ɪ  near-close near-front unrounded vowel   U+026A  LATIN LETTER SMALL CAPITAL I
 ˈ  primary stress                      U+02C8  MODIFIER LETTER VERTICAL LINE
 k  voiceless velar plosive             U+006B  LATIN SMALL LETTER K
 ʊ  near-close near-back rounded vowel  U+028A  LATIN SMALL LETTER UPSILON
 k  voiceless velar plosive             U+006B  LATIN SMALL LETTER K
 t  voiceless alveolar plosive          U+0074  LATIN SMALL LETTER T
 ð  voiced dental fricative             U+00F0  LATIN SMALL LETTER ETH
 ə  mid-central vowel                   U+0259  LATIN SMALL LETTER SCHWA
 ˈ  primary stress                      U+02C8  MODIFIER LETTER VERTICAL LINE
 g  voiced velar plosive                U+0067  LATIN SMALL LETTER G
 uː close back rounded vowel            U+0075  LATIN SMALL LETTER U
    long                                U+02D0  MODIFIER LETTER TRIANGULAR COLON
 s  voiceless alveolar sibilant         U+0073  LATIN SMALL LETTER S
7
  • 1
    It seems to me that in (2) there would always be some slight pause that is not usual in such strings such as, say, "cooked the meat" or "baked the bread" (therefore the difficulty disappears and the two sounds are easily made and heard clearly).
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 15:44
  • @LPH Yes, in (2) there might be a bit of a pause if the speaker is thinking about the orthographic colon.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 17:07
  • 6
    I definitely make different sounds when I read those aloud at a moderate (even slow) and deliberate pace, precisely as I would when giving a book review over the radio in your imaginary scenario. In particular, I actually utter the "-ed" suffix where appropriate. But, most of the time, I speak rather quickly, so I would likely clip off and not vocalize the "-ed" suffix, in which case, I agree with the rest of your answer about grammatical/semantic clues being the key to distinction, rather than sounds. Just can't agree with the very first sentence of this answer that there's no difference. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:40
  • And lest you say that the colon in your second title somehow affects the way I would pronounce it, I just played with some [simpler and less imaginative] constructions like, "He cooked the goose", and I still wouldn't lose the vocalization of the "-ed" suffix unless I was speaking quickly. Which I probably wouldn't do unless I knew I was dealing with a native speaker who already had some familiarity with talking to and understanding me. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:42
  • @CodyGray I've updated my answer in the hope of clarifying. You may well be saying [ðeˈkʰʊk͉̬̚d̪͡ðə̆ˈguːs] phonetically, which is dramatically different from the theoretical phonemic /ðeɪˈkʊktðəˈguːs/. Notice what happens in the center. You get weakened articulation and unreleased stops that take on a bit of voicing due to assimilation, and you get the point of articulation of the whilom-alveolar stop moving forward in the mouth to create a dental affricate pair with a voiced dental fricative, all of which is voiced. This sounds nothing like the theoretical phonemes you perceive in your mind.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 0:32
3

I'm simplifying here and not using IPA, but basically, some -ed endings have an "id" sound ("planted", pronounced "plantid"), some a "t" ("hiked", pronounced "hike't"), some "d" ("played", pronounced "play'd). In the case of "cooked", you'll hear a "t" sound on the end, as in "cook't". So it would be "cook't the" vs. "cook the". The pronunciation of the -ed varies depending on the preceding sound or letters (i.e. voiced/unvoiced/letter d/letter t). However, as others have stated, you will understand which one is used mostly by context.

8
  • 6
    But the "t" sound in cooked is pretty much swallowed up by the "th" in the. The OP is asking whether anybody can tell the difference by listening, not what the theoretical underlying phonemes are. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:25
  • Peter Shor is right. When I listen to audiobooks which are mostly recorded by actors from England, I tend to notice that sometimes they even make an aspiration for both k and ed in the ‘ked the’ sequence. And confusion(not for the meaning but for the sound phenomenon itself) is compounded when this happens within one recording by one individual frequently(I cannot regard it as an idiosyncratic feature of the narrator when they speak in a normal speed and tone, not playing characters). Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 21:51
  • 1
    Theoretically, the kt sequence followed by consonants pose some challenge for non natives like myself. Because we know k and t both are stop consonants in principle(though the points of contact for stop here are different). How two stops can happen without aspiration or merge or omission. When you are just wondering about this and hear such a thing by well trained English speakers doing it differently, that can give you some doubt over your own hearing when you learn foreign languages if they really care about sounds. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 21:52
  • Yep, we can say: He cooked the books. Keep hearing that kteh at the end. He doesn't usually cook the books. I just cain't hear that frisky pest. This is the best answer even though it does not include IPA etc.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:13
  • 2
    @Lambie Listen to these.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 2:35
2

Here are some opinions voiced on WordReference by native speakers about this difficulty of English pronunciation; it appears to be a matter of how careful the speakers like to be, and, apparently there is no solution that will permit a clear distinction if you speak fast; however, a leisurely flow of speech allows the pronunciation of the two sounds without too much difficulty.

question Lukas Brazil
What if /θ/or /ð/ sounds come after a /t/ or a /d/ sound? I mean, it is difficult to speak quickly, so I thought the "th" could be also removed. I think so because I have seen cases like that. Just one example: how would be "you crossed the line" pronounced?

answer 1 Julian Stuart, Senior Member Sonoma County CA English (UK then US)
For example: "what does this mean?" It is pronounced like: "what does 'is mean?" without the /ð/.
I would acknowledge that some say it that way, but it is not a rule, by any means. There are likely many different variations on how the voiced th /ð/ sounds after a t or d. I personally do not omit the voiced sound (also that's an example). When speaking faster, my voicing is briefer, and possibly less loud, but doesn't disappear.

answer 2 Crockett, Senior Member Tucson Arizona US English
I completely agree with JulianStuart. The voiced th /ð/ sound, in my opinion, should never be removed. However, there may be some people that do this anyways. In the sentence, "you crossed the line"- I would still be careful to enunciate each word. Even if I were speaking quickly, I would pronounce the 'th' sound (as in 'the').

Useful links and advice, from more native speakers, issued from the same source

Difficulty pronouncing TH after T or D

PaulQ, Senior Member, UK, English - England
My advice? Keep trying to pronounce the preceding T or D and the following TH distinctly.

Pronunciation: Nice shirt though (t > th)

Pronunciation: t followed by th (t > ð)

0

Cook the: /kʊk ðə/ or /kʊk ðiː/

Cooked the: /kʊkt ðə/ or /kʊkt ðiː/

7
  • 8
    But this is not true in actual speech! All you've done here is indicate abstract phonemes, which are no use for transcription of connected speech under allegro rules.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:13
  • 1
    I suppose it matters who's saying it and how they are saying it. Absent context, I assume that it is part of an unremarkable sentence "I cook(ed) the beef for an hour at 160 degrees." I have no difficulty with the IPA version.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:15
  • 1
    I agree with Greybeard. It seems to me they are different. Perhaps it will be good for answerers to say what location they mean.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 18:05
  • 5
    @tchrist I don't consider myself a " a very. careful. speaker. with. careful. ar. tic. ulation." I do not "reproduce citation form", which sounds like a conscious effort. I'm genuinely surprised at your conviction that nobody would say [kʊk ðə], [kʊk ðiː], [kʊkt ðə] or [kʊkt ðiː].
    – Greybeard
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 21:33
  • 5
    @tchrist I would say they are certainly different in British English. At the least, there would be a slight "glottal stop" between the words in "cooked the."
    – alephzero
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 0:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.