Awoken or Awakened?

By Maeve Maddox

Carson Buckingham requests a post on

“awake in all its bizarre forms—-awokened???????”

The past tense of the verb awake gives lots of people fits. Should it be “awoken” or “awakened”? The same confusion attaches to the verbs awaken, wake, and waken.

In modern usage, all of these verbs may be used intransitively or transitively:

awake
intransitive: to come out of the state of sleep; to cease to sleep
transitive: to arouse (someone) from sleep.

awaken
intransitive: to arise or spring into existence
transitive: to rouse from sleep

wake
intransitive: to be or remain awake; to keep oneself, or be kept, awake
transitive: to rouse from sleep or unconsciousness

waken
intransitive: to cease to sleep; to become awake
transitive: To rouse (a person or animal) from sleep or unconsciousness.

Confusion about the past tense forms stems from the fact that the words evolved from two Old English verbs, one of which was “strong” and one of which was “weak.”

Note: Certain OE “strong” verbs developed past tense forms that end in -en in modern English. OE “weak” verbs developed past tense forms that end in -ed in modern English. In the case of awake and wake, we may choose to use either the strong or the weak endings:

awake / awoke / (have) awoken
awake / awaked / (have) awaked

wake / woke / (have) woken
wake / waked / (have) waked

In the case of awaken and waken, the weak ending is standard.

awaken / awakened / (have) awakened

waken / wakened / (have) wakened

Although these words mean more or less the same thing, I think they’ve all remained in the language because they express different slivers of meaning about waking and wakefulness.

Wake, wake up, and waken are possibly the most commonly used words for the literal act of rousing a sleeper.

Around 6 a.m. the technician returns to wake the patient and remove the sensors.

Why does Atticus wake the children in the middle of the night?

Getting your teenager to wake up in the morning

your cries have woken the master

I have woken up in the middle of the night not being able to breathe…

The thunder woke me.

I was woken by the thunder.

Next comes waken:

In 29% of patients, the pain is severe enough to waken the patient.

I often waken in the night and can’t go back to sleep.

Just when you thought there was nothing going on, the sun is going to waken!

Awake and Awaken are also used for the literal waking of a sleeper, but in addition, these words carry literary and theological connotations that simple wake does not. Sinners are exhorted to awaken to their transgressions. Self-help gurus show us how to awaken various aspects of our personalities:

How to Awaken your Divine Intuition

How to Awaken Your Inner Child

Awaken the Writer Within

Both awake and awaken are popular title words:

When We Dead Awaken

Awaken the Giant Within

14 Steps to Awaken the Sacred Feminine

Awake

The sleeper awakes

And of course, there’s Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening.”

Journalists use awaken to establish a serious tone:

Omar Bongo’s Demise Should Awaken Continent’s Tyrants

Oil spill should awaken us to nuclear danger.

This grave incident should awaken society to rid itself of prejudice.

Here are a few more examples showing the different forms in action. You may find that you want to use different words for transitive and intransitive use.

transitive
Don’t wake the baby.
Don’t waken the baby.
She woke the patient at 3 a.m.
Has she waked the patient for her meds?
You have woken the patient too soon!
The alarm never wakes him.
Have you awakened the guards?

intransitive
Sometimes I wake in the night.
Sometimes I waken in the night.
Sometimes I awake in the night.
Sometimes I awaken in the night.
I awoke at midnight.

Bottom line: Choose the form or forms you prefer. There’s so much confusion and disagreement about these words and their past tense forms that you ought to be safe no matter what you decide. (As long as you stay away from inventions like “awokened.”)

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24 Responses to “Awoken or Awakened?”

  • naomi hamm

    to me awoken sounds more natural, better on your tongue, read it out loud and you will see. The second word, is contrived, unatural. I go more for awoken.

    His hot kiss awoken the need within me I thought had long flown away.

  • Hal

    I have always thought there were the three conjugations of the verb. I am awake, I awoke, I was awakened, for it to be correct english. Listening to the Beatles anthology where John Lennon in the song “And your bird can sing”, says “I may be awoken”. You can hear Paul and George laughing and questioning his choice of words. I guessed they were as surprised as I was to hear John use awoken instead of awakened.

  • Lee Broom

    I awoke (or was I wakened) my wakefulness alert to the possibility of a surprise awakening, which really woke me up to the further possibilities of waketudiness, leaving in it’s wake a moment of waning wakery. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Wake me when it’s over.

  • Beto pizzotti

    I would like be part of this english course, thanks.

  • venqax

    @Hal: Maeve is right. We simply have 3 different verbs: To wake, to awake and to awaken. All 3 have their own conjugations. In “I (sic) mayy be awoken”– the line is actually, “You may be awoken”– it is the past participle of to awake. I had been awoken, you may be awoken. The Beatles, of course, were musical geniuses– not grammarians. And they did a lot of giggling in the Revolver days.

  • Hieronymus Illinensis

    I woke, I awakened, I was woken, I was awakened:
    I am alive. I was asleep but am so no longer.

    I woke you, I wakened you, I awakened you:
    You are alive. Because of my action, you are no longer asleep.

    I waked you:
    You are dead. I held a visitation for you before your funeral.

  • venqax

    Hieronymus Illinensis

    I think you missed on the last one. It would be “I whacked you, therefore I had a wake and you are dead.”

  • Ted Bortel

    The first time i heard the word”awoken” I thought it to be the creation of toddlers similar to “I beated you across the finish line.”
    To awake has always been the proper infinitive in my lifetime of 67 years and an avid grammarrtician since winning my eigth grade English award in addition to the spelling award. I struggle not to be complacent but at thesame time I wish not to be a conformist to those who shout the loudest or can gather a crowd of equally unaware friends and others to support the case without proper justification (as in politics).
    To me, awake has always been the present tense, awoke trhe past and awakened the perfect tense as taught by English professor in high school. I my lifetime, my grammar has always served me perfectly and therfore choose not to weaken it at the suggestion of someone new without aconvincing proof to the contrary.
    In my opinion, “awoken should be relegated to the same categorical box as “ain’t, another creation of the lesser-informed.
    Imean no offense to anyone in my opinionated expression.

  • Bayon

    “Ted Bortel on April 17, 2012 1:39 pm

    The first time i heard the word”awoken” I thought it to be the creation of toddlers similar to “I beated you across the finish line.”
    To awake has always been the proper infinitive in my lifetime of 67 years and an avid grammarrtician since winning my eigth grade English award in addition to the spelling award. I struggle not to be complacent but at thesame time I wish not to be a conformist to those who shout the loudest or can gather a crowd of equally unaware friends and others to support the case without proper justification (as in politics).
    To me, awake has always been the present tense, awoke trhe past and awakened the perfect tense as taught by English professor in high school. I my lifetime, my grammar has always served me perfectly and therfore choose not to weaken it at the suggestion of someone new without aconvincing proof to the contrary.
    In my opinion, “awoken should be relegated to the same categorical box as “ain’t, another creation of the lesser-informed.
    Imean no offense to anyone in my opinionated expression.”

    Yuck.

  • venqax

    Bayon: Don’t know why you think awoken is sub-standard or unacceptable in any sense. It is perfectly acceptable, and always has been so far as I know, in all the major dialects of English. It’s okay, even for 67-year olds.

  • venqax

    http://www.verb2verbe.com/conjugation/english-verb/awaken.aspx

    A very standard, uneccentric grammar site.

  • Levi Stribling

    Dear DWT –

    Thank you for your wonderful tips. I was wondering what references you use to back your information. Thank you in advance for your response. Have a great day.

    Kindly,

    Levi Stribling

  • Alex Bannerman

    Mr. Bortel makes an excellent argument to which I completely subscribe, EXCEPT, he errs in making his point analogous to usage of the word “ain’t.” One will find, if one explores the history of the word “ain’t,” that it was, in fact, the correct contraction of “am not” prior to the edict of “the Queen’s English,” because Victoria (for instance) could not stand its usage. This was also a heightened-awareness period for ceasing usage of prepositions at the ends of sentences. Nevertheless, well done, Mr. Bortel. Awoken — an abomination that will never be used by THIS wordsmith!

  • Sue

    As a retired English teacher, I find “awoken” to be both awkward and unnecessary, especially given the several alternatives, all of which “flow” far more “trippingly from the tongue.”

  • Prof Samsonite

    Despite Mr. Bortel’s unfortunate misspellings and typos, he is correct regarding the proper, standard uses of “awake,” “awoke,” and “awakened.” My Harvard-educated grandfather, a speaker and writer, winced when people used awful expressions like “awoken” or (even worse) “woken up.” In her novel, Philothea: A Romance, the famed Lydia Maria Childs wrote, “She was awakened by the sound of a troubled, timid voice, saying, ‘Eudora! Eudora!'” How disappointing if she would have used “awoken” or “woken up” instead of “awakened.” Let us keep English beautiful! And yes, Mr. Bortel, let us not fall to the temptations of inclusivism or group-think (grammatical, political, or otherwise)!

  • Patty

    It annoys me that people substitute improper English that eventually becomes incorporated into the Dictionary because we are too lazy to teach good English or correct the improper use of “words”. The proper use of the word, past tense, is AWAKENED.

  • Suzi

    ‘Nuff said. Awakened it was, is and shall forever be!

  • MaryJane Melton

    I’m not a teacher. I never went to college. I read a lot. I always cringe when even popular authors use ‘woken’ or ‘awoken’. It kind of sounds wrong somehow, but what do I know? I am confused about whether to use ‘wake’ as opposed to ‘awake’ and ‘woke’ or awoke’. If ever I write My Novel, know that ‘woken’ or ‘awoken’ will not appear anywhere in it.

  • Lynne

    AMEN Bayon! I’m with you. Let’s stop “accepting” new words just because the uneducated know no better. Let’s educate our society. I’m all for going back to the “King’s English”. I urge all to AWAKEN the teacher inside and share your knowledge of the beautiful English language with those you love. The first impression of you is how you speak. Never forget that.

  • Brandon

    You guys all sound like you have a serious problem with change. “Proper” English? Whatever is more commonly used is what’s proper. That’s just the nature of languages. When you were younger people from the previous generations also thought that you all sounded funny as kids, and now you are acting like the very same people that your probably use to make fun of as children. At the moment, it should be rather obvious that both choices are utilized, therefor they are both “proper.”

  • Alexander Rose

    I like to think that awaken means to arise.. like above.

    that means it is happening right now. “to arise” ..

    awoken = he has already risen.

    Personally like using awoken better than awaken because then you have a Destiny joke (if you don’t know what I mean nevermind)

  • Roy Isbell

    Awaken has always sounded more correct to me. But it occurs to me now that awoke might sound more self-induced, waking up on one’s own as opposed to being awakened by a loud noise.

  • Joe Laredo

    I’m just wondering why we need an a on the beginning of wake or an n on the end at all. When we’re talking about the transition from sleep to wakefulness, what’s wrong with simply waking (transitive and intransitive)? Then there would be no confusion. (An awakening is something else altogether.) As Shakespeare and Churchill (among others) have demonstrated, English is so much more expressive when it’s kept simple.

  • Jess

    Dear Mrs. Maddox,

    Thank you very much for answering Mr. Buckingham’s inquiry, I found it very useful in the wee hours of the morning, especially your advice to “Choose the form or forms you prefer”

    In reviewing the comments, I was happy to learn John Lennon shared in my decision. Learning something new is much appreciated – thank you, Hal!

    Venqax mentions The Beatles giggling a lot at the time in which they created Revolver and I would ask what’s so wrong with a little laughter?

    “I like to think that awaken means to arise.. like above.

    that means it is happening right now. “to arise” ..

    awoken = he has already risen.”

    I believe Mr. Rose has the right of it. Also, quite enjoyed Laredo’s take
    “(An awakening is something else altogether.)” And Roy Isbell has an interesting consideration in using the term “self induced”

    I would add that is might be rather rude to ask someone who is in a state of much needed rest if they are awake. The question “Are you awake?” might be construed as one that demands another to wake or (if communication is really shot) that the questioner is asking rhetorically if the other is paying attention.

    Thank you, to all, for your insight, guidance & humor. One final note of particular importance, for the teachers and professors who are uncomfortable or offended by the use of “awoken” – it is your duty to know the correct use of language and teach the art of being a wordsmith. Your knowledge and passion for communication are appreciated and very necessary. Communication is fluid though and available thru many different facets. It is my hope that the ability to converse is held paramount to the way in which it is accomplished.

    Peace.

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