on deletion / omission of word-final /t d/ in English (t/d ~ ∅), both as a phenomenon of connected speech and in lexicalized variants of particular words

ML, 7/14/06: Ceiling tiles dropped, also morpheme:

As a small linguistic footnote to the recent tragedy in Boston, I’ve learned that we can add drop(ped) ceiling to the list of words like ice(d) cream, skim(med) milk, ice(d) tea, wax(ed) paper, roast(ed) beef, shave(d) ice, cream(ed) corn, whip(ped) cream, where a phrase of the form [V+ed N] becomes lexicalized without the -ed.

ML, 7/15/06: I was (probably) wrong:
[on the relationship between drop ceiling and dropped ceiling]

… syllable-final /t/ and /d/ are often deleted in English. Much of the long history of research on this topic is summarized in Chapter 5 of Andries Coetzee’s 2004 dissertation:

In English, a coronal stop that appears as last member of a word-final consonant cluster is subject to variable deletion – i.e. a word such as west can be pronounced as either [wɛst] or [wɛs]. Over the past thirty five years, this phenomenon has been studied in more detail than probably any other variable phonological phenomenon. […]

The factors that influence the likelihood of application of [t, d]-deletion can be classified into three broad categories: the following context (is the [t, d] followed by a consonant, vowel or pause), the preceding context (the phonological features of the consonant preceding the [t, d]), the grammatical status of the [t, d] (is it part of the root or is it a suffix). The contribution of each of these three factors can be summarized as follows: (i) The following context. [t, d] that is followed by a consonant is more likely to delete than [t, d] that is followed by either a vowel or a pause. Dialects differ from each other with regard to the influence of following vowels and pauses. In some dialects, a following vowel is associated with higher deletion rates than a following pause. In other dialects this situation is reversed – i.e. more deletion before a pause than a vowel. (ii) Preceding context. In general, the more similar the preceding segment is to [t, d], the more likely [t, d] is to delete. Similarity has been measured in terms of sonority (higher deletion rates after obstruents than sonorants), but also in terms of counting the number of features shared between [t, d] and the preceding consonant. (iii) Grammatical category. Generally speaking, [t, d] that is part of the root (in a monomorpheme like west) is subject to higher deletion rates than [t, d] that functions as a suffix (the past tense suffix in locked).

In the case of the many paired two-word phrases with and without the -ed suffix on the first element, this phonological variation intersects with morphological and semantic variation. In my earlier post, I gave the list ice(d) cream, skim(med) milk, ice(d) tea, wax(ed) paper, roast(ed) beef, shave(d) ice, cream(ed) corn, whip(ped) cream, and Barbara Zimmer wrote to suggest adding screen(ed) porch and steam(ed) crabs. Is it a porch that has been screened in — a screened porch, like a covered wagon — or a porch whose walls are made of screens — a screen porch, like a stone house (or a screen door)? Either formation is consistent with the broader syntactic and semantic patterns of English, and with the forms and meanings of the particular words involved. And either phrase could easily be misperceived for the other one, given both the low phonetic salience of the pronuncation difference at best, and the general tendency for that difference to be omitted in speaking. So it would make sense to find word histories in which X Y turned into X-ed Y, as well as histories that go the other way.

[A commenter discussed old-fashion(ed)]

ML, 2/3/08: Coal-fire(d)?:

Either way, coal-fired was there first, anchored by its contrastive partners oil-fired, gas-fired, wood-fired and so on.

But coal-fire, even if it lost the chance to be the early mover, has always been waiting in the wings. And it’s got an ally in the English sound system: t/d deletion.

That’s the process that leads us to reduce or omit [t] or [d] at the ends of syllables (See e.g. J.L. Roberts, “Acquisition of Variable Rules: (-t,d) Deletion and (ing) Production in Preschool Children“, IRCS, 1994). This is more likely to happen in common phrases and before consonants — as in “coal fired”.

There’s a long history in English of the final [t] or [d] of -ed forms being lost in lexicalized phrases:

[table with: skim(med) milk, pop(ped) corn, wax(ed) paper, screen(ed) porch, ice(d) cream, ice(d) tea. shave ice (Hawaian desser), cream corn (informal), whip cream (informal)]

(Some -ed-less forms like “skim milk” are quite old, and may have been formed originally from as V+N, I’m not sure.) Forms such as “popped corn” and “iced cream” are now archaic at best, with “popcorn”, “ice cream” etc. being standard. The case of “iced tea” seems to be transitional — I usually see it written as “iced tea”, but I’m pretty sure that I pronounce it as if it were “ice tea”. And for me, “creamed corn” and “whipped cream” are still normal, though I know that many people have lost the final -ed in those words as well.

[ML to commenter: the commonest place to see [t/d-deletion] is inside words (e.g. “postpone” or “handmaiden”), or in common … phrases like “first Friday” or “best buy”; and it can also happen across larger phrases boundaries, as in “last for a while” or “band together”.]

[other commenters offered can vegetables and school-age(d) children, adults age(d) N]

AZ, 3/30/08: Closure:

The OED gives /klos/ and /kloz/ as alternative pronunciations for both British and American English.  This gets us (oh dear) closer, in both pronunciation and meaning, to what we’re looking for.  But in both senses, close season is a fixed expression, and I assume that the A in it can’t be used predicatively: *The season is close [with either pronunciation].  So there are As /klos/ and /kloz/ hanging around in the corners of modern English, but they aren’t available for use on signs.

One more nomination in my mailbox: from Andrew Clegg on 3/29: close /kloz/ circuit and close /kloz/ minded, to which I can add close /kloz/ caption(ed).  (From Google searches, Clegg finds the first to be primarily U.K. usage and the second to be more widespread; I believe that the third is primarily North American usage, if only because closed-caption(ed) itself is, according to the OED, originally and chiefly North American.)  In each of these cases, close is a variant of standard closed in a fixed expression.  As Clegg notes, the variation surely began in speech, where as Mark Liberman said a little while ago: “There’s a long history in English of the final [t] or [d] of -ed forms being lost in lexicalized phrases…” (and there’s a huge literature on English “final t/d-deletion” in general).  These spoken variants are eventually recognized in spelling (though dictionaries are slow to record the “reduced” variants), and some speakers seem to have reanalyzed some of the expressions — so that for some people, ice tea is now understood as having the N ice as its first element.  I don’t know if some speakers have come to see the close /kloz/ of close circuit etc. as a new adjective.  But even if they do, it appears only in certain fixed expressions and then only attributively.  So, once again, it’s not available for use on signs.

AZ, 7/22/08: Ar(c)tic:


When you look at objections to “simplified” pronunciations, you see that a small number of items come up again and again: Arctic missing the first [k], government missing the first [n] (I’ll post on this one in a while), February missing the first [r], and a few others. Meanwhile, lots of other simplified pronunciations escape censure. In particular, tons of instances of “final t/d deletion” — last discussed here in connection with pronunciations of closed (in closed circuit, closed-minded, and closed-captioned) as [kloz], with no final [d], and with a link to an earlier discussion of different cases by Mark Liberman. (Then there’s the extremely common pronunciation of last in last night without a final [t], and many other cases.)

9/7/09: grow a custom (to):

grow a custom (to)

The next step is phonological: “final t/d deletion” (discussed under various labels in the (voluminous) literature on the phenomenon), especially favored when the following word begins with a consonant, especially [t] or [d], especially in lexicalized phrases. Ice(d) tea is a textbook example, but there are many others.

In the case of accustom(ed) to, I suspect that the [d] of accustomed is hardly ever pronounced, except in hyperarticulate speech.

That gets us to accustom to, now frequently spelled without the ED, in an “ear spelling”. Stupendous number of Google hits, including many from people who’ve reworked the My Fair Lady lyrics …

10/2/09: jute box:

jute box

My suggestion is then that the spelling JUTE is an “ear spelling”. It would make a nice small project to search for similar cases. Well, WikiAnswers has been faced with the question “What is pot mark skin?”, with POT MARK for pockmark (which is doubly nice, since it also has “final t/d deletion” in MARK for marked), and there are occurrences of RITSHAW for rickshaw as well, and there may be others out there.

ML, 2/10/10: The population memetics of un-ed-ing:

The population memetics of un-ed-ing

[on bake goods ‘baked goods’]

Although t/d deletion is stigmatized, in fact all normal English speakers do it some of the time, at least in some contexts.  As a result, fixed expressions that start out as participle+noun are sometimes re-analyzed so as to lose their -ed ending.  This happened long ago to ice(d) cream, skim(med) milk, pop(ped) corn [AMZ: might be dubious], wax(ed) paper, shave(d) ice, etc. It’s happened more recently (I think) to ice(d) tea, cream(ed) corn, and whip(ped) cream.

[from comments: hash(ed) brown(ed) potatoes, box set, mash potatoes, black-eye peas, can goods, sundry tomatoes, etc. – plus a number from speech but not represented in spelling]

[many differences in social, situational, etc. status of the variants. And some differentiation between them: for instance, some speakers report a difference between whipped cream and whip cream]

2/9/15: “Hash Brown Built-In”:
[on hashed browned > hash brown]

11/14/17: toss salad, fry shrimp, and other t/d ~ ∅:
link to this Page, with collection of previously unposted discussions

11/16/17: Revisiting 12: chop salad:

11/16/17: Follow-ups: t/d-deletion:
dark-fire tobacco; t/d-deletion in eggcorns

12/9/17: poach egg:
< poached egg

12/10/17: Revisiting 16: pouch(ed) and scrumble(d) eggs:

8/2/18: Male crop tops!:
cropped > crop in crop top and other nominals

8/15/18: At the eggcorn’s edge:
guess towel, bran-new

9/4/18: Brush away the blue-tailed skink:
blue-tail(ed) fly

10/13/18: Two word confusion cartoons:
Ol’ King Cole, Superfun(d) site

1/1/20: Usage notes from the kitchen:
scramble eggs and other food simplifications

7/14/20: CORN/BEEF:
corn ~ corned