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In order to understand what I listen, I'm trying to catch differences between "I walk to" and "I walked to" but I can't catch any difference. How can I distinguish that sounds?

  • If one can not hear what is being spoken clearly, one can usually figure it out from surrounding context. Do you have a link to what you are listening to? – Peter Jul 1 '16 at 17:09
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    I'm using youglish.com; for example: youglish.com/search/%22walked%20to%22 and youglish.com/search/%22walk%20to%22 – baudo2048 Jul 1 '16 at 17:12
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    I wouldn't bother even trying to hear a difference. My guess is most native speakers don't usually articulate them any differently anyway, so you should just ignore the possibility of hearing something that's probably not even present - do like the native speakers, and rely on context to decide which tense you heard. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 1 '16 at 17:29
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    In your example, it is unlikely someone would say "I walk to..." in normal conversation other than to denote repetitive actions. Context has to be the determiner. – user3169 Jul 1 '16 at 17:43
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    @user3169: Not true. As this NGram shows, I walk to work is almost exactly as common as I walked to work. And unless the speaker continued with something like ...every day or ...yesterday, you'd have almost no chance of detecting the intended tense from just those words. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 1 '16 at 17:55
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It's almost impossible for native speakers to articulate the consonants /k/ /d/ /t in rapid succession with no intervening voiced vowel (even though some might think they do).

So in practice it's not worth trying to hear (or reproduce) a difference, because there usually isn't one. Just do the same as native speakers, and rely on context to tell you what was intended.


Arguably it's not fair to use an automated text-to-speech routine to illustrate this point, but it works for me. Try listening to this and this - if I don't look at the text, I've no idea which one is I walk to work and which is I walked to work.

Even better, see if you notice anything at all unusual about this or this!

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    Native speakers don't pronounce walked with the consonants /k/ and /d/ in rapid succession; the word ends with the sounds /k/ and /t/. Then, since walked and to are separate words, one may insert a very short pause between them in order to be able to pronounce the second /t/. (How well the words are actually separated may depend on the speaker and on context.) – David K Jul 1 '16 at 20:44
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    We obviously can string /k/ and /d/ together - as in, say, back door, where for most speakers in most contexts the central consonant cluster is clearly distinguished from that in backed off. I for one would be interested to know if a linguist would expect to reliably identify both of those and, say, back tax purely from an oscilloscope trace of the middle bit. In practice I doubt many people would insert a very short pause unless they were being asked to repeat the words specifically to enable a listener to make a relevant distinction. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 2 '16 at 12:13
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Normally you wouldn't hear the difference, but a careful speaker might pronounce the 't' as a double consonant, i.e. hold the dental stop a trifle longer for 'walked to' than 'walk to'. Compare the double consonant sound 'n' in 'penknife', for example. If there had been a misunderstanding and the speaker was emphasising the past tense, they might make a double 't' sound, i.e. 't t', but this would not be the natural, unforced pronunciation.

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As a native speaker I would say there's very little difference, but if there is any, it's in timing. Rather than there being an additional articulation of the "t" sound in "walked to", it's timed more closely to "walk" than to the vowel sound of "to". There may be differences in stress to depending on the context but I think these are hard to discuss in isolation.

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