From the archives...
The following question was originally posted on the (now discontinued) LOE Forum.
What am I to make of the word "wretched"? It seems to be two syllables, WRETCH ED, which would not fit with rule 20 [which discusses ending the past tense suffix -ED]. I tried to think of other examples with a "tch" or "ch" ending (fetched, watched, etc) but they all follow the rule. Am I missing something that would account for this or is it just an exception. Thanks!
You are missing one piece of the picture, but you are on the right track!
The missing piece is that this word is an adjective, not a past tense verb with -ed added to it. So it doesn't follow the regular patterns for the past tense and past participle verb ending -ed.
Think about it this way: You don't make someone wretched by "wretching" them... there is no English verb 'to wretch.' So wretched is just its own word, and is an adjective only. The adjectives naked and wicked are the same way.
Although we can use past participles of verbs as adjectives (the frustrated girl, the delighted parent, the amused grandfather), not all adjectives that end in -ed are instances of this. Some are just their own word.
These adjectives aren't formed by adding a suffix to a base word, but are their own separate words. In these words the E and D often just say their usual phonogram sounds, rather than following rule 20 for past tense ending.
To make things slightly more complicated: there also a few words where we pronounce the same spelling differently based on whether we are making our verb past tense or using an adjective, often an old one, that has come to have its own distinct meaning:
'The family blessed me with their kindness and hospitality.' [one syllable - past tense verb - follows Rule 20]
'Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was recognized as a saint by the Vatican in 2015.' [two syllables - adjective - does not use Rule 20].
The adjective is still related to the verb and is derived from it, but it has a particular use now listed separately in dictionaries as its own adjective, and its pronunciation does not follow the rules for verbs. We sometimes use this second, adjective-only pronunciation in specific contexts: "I couldn't do a blessed thing about it." But if we are just using the verb 'to bless' in the past tense, we follow spelling rule 20, pronouncing the ending as a syllable.