Proved vs. Proven

By Maeve Maddox

Several readers have asked for clarification on the words proved and proven.

Both are forms of the verb prove: “to demonstrate or establish as true.”

As a regular transitive verb, prove has the following principal parts:

prove (present)
proved (simple past)
have proved (past participle)
proving (present participle)

The form proven is an irregular past participle form. One can say either, He has proved his theory, or He has proven his theory.

According the OED, proven is “the usual form [of the past participle] in Scottish English and also the preferred form in current North American English.”

That’s not to say that it doesn’t appear in British publications:

James Milner says that Manchester City have proven that they can win ugly –The Daily Mail

Here is a sampling from the Web. It’s not always possible to discern the country of origin:

We’ve proved that we can’t be trusted with setting passwords.

[Pope] Francis has proven to be a crowd favorite for many young people.

Women have proved that they can win the race.

Barry Beach has proven himself an asset to community, deserving of clemency

Brandon High has proven to be the community’s leadership institute

Quality early education has proven economic benefit for community

The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook advise against the use of proven as a past participle, but Paul Brians (Common Errors in English Usage) opines that, “For most purposes either form is a fine past participle of prove…”

Proven as an adjective preceding a noun is standard in both British and American usage:

Five Proven Facts that Make Yoga Awesome

This Politician is a Proven Liar

Capaldi [the new Dr. Who] is a fine actor, who has a proven track record in comedy and drama…

To sum up:
Proved is the past tense of the verb prove. Both proved and proven are are acceptable as past participle forms.

British and some American style guides recommend proved as the only past participle, admitting of established set phrases like “innocent until proven guilty.”

Proven as an adjective preceding a noun is standard usage in both British and American usage.

Pronunciation note: Americans pronounce the adjective proven with the same “oo” vowel as prove: [PROOV-n]. British speakers pronounce proven with a long o: [PRO-vn]

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23 Responses to “Proved vs. Proven”

  • Rich Wheeler

    I wondered. Thanks!

  • thebluebird11

    @Maeve: The thing that struck me the most about this post is that someone who is ESL might not know how to pronounce these words! I think you could consider that when writing posts and perhaps give pronunciation tips. I know that when posts include foreign terms (e.g. French, Latin), there are people who will not know how to pronounce them. I minored in French in college so I’m familiar enough with that, but I would bet I would mispronounce words from other languages.
    In this case (not to steal your thunder), I would just like to clarify to any ESL speaker that PROVE/PROVEN are pronounced to rhyme with GROOVE, not GROVE! Same as the word MOVE (which does not rhyme with LOVE, LOL). Yikes! 😉

  • D.A.W.

    The United States received millions and millions of immigransts from German-speaking countries. In fact, there were more German-speaking immigrants than there were of ones who spoke English. It was just that the English speakers got established here first.

    In German, the past participles of the irregular verbs end in “en”. My hypothesis is that the German speakers here (who were learning English, often over two or more generations) influenced and encouraged the “en” ending in verbs like “proven”, “gotten”, “given”, “ridden”, “shaven”, “shrunken”,”sunken”, and “stricken”.
    [The past participles of the regular verbs end in “t”. German also has a few extremely irregular verbs such as the verb for “to be”. Its past participle is “sein”.]

    Before anyone jumps to conclusions and starts arguing with me, I can make a hypothesis about anything that I want to. It remains to be seen if it is a true hypothesis or not.
    If you have a different hypothesis, express it, but don’t argue with mine, and I won’t argue with yours. Show some respect: at least I have expended the effort to say something that is plausible.

  • D.A.W.

    Oops! “Immigrants”

  • D.A.W.

    Thank you, thebluebird11:
    It is true that “prove” and “proven” are pronounced like “pruve” and “pruven”. The same vowel sound it found in these words {spruce, prude, prune, rue, roo, blue, blew, chew, clue, few, hew, Jew, lewd, slew, pew, stew, threw, and zoo}.
    I have to think of “Who Slew Auntie Roo?” when I do this.

    Back when I was in the early years of elementary school, my teachers told us to recite or write list of rhyming words.
    This would probably be a good exercise for students in classes of English As a Second Language. Why don’t teachers do this in the 21st Century?

    It is interesting that a pupil who was born in the year 2000 could be in high school by now. A pupil who started the 1st grade in the year 2000 could be an upcoming junior in college by now.
    D.A.W.

  • D.A.W.

    If you don’t like the words “proven” or “proved” you could try “quod erat demonstratum” ! Q.E.D.

  • thebluebird11

    @Maeve: I am SO sorry! (red face) Believe it or not, the last part of the post (where you mentioned pronunciation) was cut off in the email I received and I put my reply without reading the post here at the web site! So…at least I didn’t steal your thunder…
    @DAW: Your hypothesis might very well be correct; why are you so paranoid that people will jump down your throat? I guess it would need to be researched as to when the German immigrants arrived vs when the -en words entered our language. If we had these -en words prior to the mass influx of German immigrants you mentioned, that could disprove your hypothesis, but if we added these words to our language after the influx, that could point to your hypothesis being correct.

  • venqax

    Yes, that hypothesis may be correct. Or it might be incorrect. It is perfectly fine to question hypotheses. In fact, that is the whole point of hypotheses, as any scientist knows. Some people are very sensitive about being corrected and that bleeds into being unwilling to hear any criticism at all. When you’ve made pronouncements like Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick the Great were the same person, you get touchy.

  • D.A.W.

    Venqax: Just write something productive, and don’t GRIPE about what other people write. You have a serious problem about that.

  • D.A.W.

    Sorry, thebluebird11, I wrote “encouraged the en” ending, and not who originated it.
    No matter who originated it, someone else might have encouraged it (by using it a lot) 50 years or 100 years later on.

  • D.A.W.

    Sorry, thebluebird11, it is just that venqax would rather gripe about anything under the sun than to do anything productive at all.
    I was merely presenting a hypothesis about language to think about – and NOT contradicting Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
    Venqax cannot distinguish between the two.

  • Maeve

    DAW,
    I fail to see the point of your hypothesis. The -en verb ending is a feature of Old English.

  • venqax

    Read the last paragraph of your first post, DAW. I think we should coin the verb “hypocritize”. Don’t hypocritize! Stop your hypocritizing! Notice I use the Z spelling for the voiced S.

    …and NOT contradicting Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
    Venqax cannot distinguish between the two.

    Yes he can! The Theory of Relativity is about relativity and the other one was about…what was the other one again?

  • thebluebird11

    @DAW: Meow, meow. IMNSHO this is really not the forum for catty remarks. Consider taking them outside so Maeve and the rest of us can have some peace and quiet. I don’t mind a lively discussion but for fights I prefer to watch a hockey game!

  • venqax

    Correcting an error is not griping. Questioning or making a proposal is not griping. Complaining about griping is griping. In the words of one sage, “Just write something productive, and don’t GRIPE.”

    Re the subject: I first heard and have always preferred proven. The fist times I ever heard proved as a past participle it sounded wrong to me. Like when asked, “Do you think he has proved his point?” I would want to say, “I don’t know, I haven’t speaked to him about it.” I have long known that either was acceptable but I’m pleasantly surprised to see proven called “preferred” in North Amercan. I assume that means Mexican prefer proven, too. Yay “North America”.

  • AnWulf

    @DAW … “proven” likely came to the States mainly thru the Scots where it is also found. In Scots law it was often “proven” or “not proven”. Altho in Old English prove (OE profian) was a weak verb, it would hav been easy for it to pick the old OE perfectiv -en ending that was often found (much like the German).

  • Rinnie

    Very interesting comparison of proved/proven in different areas, but I’m a little confused by the pronunciation note. As far as I’m aware, we Brits, in general (not accounting for some accents which may be different), also pronounce ‘proven’ with a long ‘ooh’ (as thebluebird11 said, rhyming with ‘groove’) and NOT with an ‘oh’/’eu’ as in ‘grove’.

  • venqax

    I wondered about that too. I thought proh-ven as in grove was a Scottish pronunciation, e.g. the Scottish verdict of “not proven”. I didn’t think it was RP or British in general.

  • Maeve

    Rinnie and Venqax,
    It may be a generational thing, or perhaps class. I have a London friend (attended Cheltenham College in her youth), well up in years, who pronounces “proven” PRO-vn. not PROO-vn.

  • venqax

    Very interesting. I wonder if it’s a northern thing? The dialect in places like Cumberaland, Yorkshire, Northuberland, sound kind of Scottish-like to me. Of course I don’t have an ear for Br dialects, so maybe I’m daft.

  • Russell Scott

    To sum up (written above):

    In the first sentence, you left in an additional “are” after proved/proven. Just needed a little closer polish in the proofreading.

  • cryan

    “…in Scottish English and also the…” Using “and also” is redundant. Use one, not both.

  • cryan

    @Maeve “…in Scottish English and also the…” Using “and also” is redundant. Use one, not both.

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