Wake, Woke, Awake, Awoken

A reader responded to my post about irregular verbs last week to express confusion about when to use “awake” and when to use “wake” (and their various past-tense forms). Well, she’s not alone. I’ve done some dictionary diving and was daunted by the prospect of explaining it all, as to give a proper explanation, you have to go into word origins, transitive and intransitive verb distinctions, and probably other things, none of which I quite had the heart to write about at length today.

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Even Garner, whom I cite near-weekly, acknowledges that these verbs are tricky, especially the past-tense forms.

Luckily, Maeve Maddox, of the Daily Writing Tips blog, has done a bunch of legwork to lay out the details.

In a nutshell, it’s generally ok to use wake or awake as both transitive verbs (a verb that is performed upon an object or, in this case, creature) and intransitive verbs (“I awoke” or “he woke” when the subject of the sentence is the one waking up). Garner provides the following table for the past-tense and past-participial forms:

Present Past-tense Past-Participal
wake woke waked (or woken)
awake awoke awaked (or awoken)
awaken awakened awakened
wake up woke up waked up

Since there’s so much interchangeability among the verbs, you’re probably usually going to be ok using whichever sounds the best to you (ie, maybe you want two syllables to fit the rhythm of your sentence). Some of the forms do imply shades of meaning, but I don’t know that for most of us, they’re worth fussing over too much. For many more details and examples, head on over to the post I mention above.

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  1. Getting your grammar correct is tricky. Modern day gadgets like computers with tools like spell check have made it worse for us. I can hardly write a sentence without churning out a dozen mistakes. Handwriting has been another casualty in all this. Thanks for these articles.


  2. anyone else find a wee bit of irony in a post that criticizes grammar issues but spells “participle” wrong? (;

    (I know, the table it comes from another source – but still…)


  3. Hi Daryl, I used to have similar doubts and I’m particularly interested in your words ‘Some of the forms do imply shades of meaning’; Are there any shades of meaning when we use ‘learnt’ and ‘learned’.


  4. Ilustrativo artículo, sobre la gramática que no deja de ser relativa, según inclusive respecto a lugares o países, donde una misma palabra tienen significado diferente. Pero respecto a verbos creo son la raíz fundamental.


  5. Definitely need to reblog this on my ESLblog. This question hasn’t come up in class (thankfully I don’t teach much grammar) but it’s a nice tidbit to pull out.



  6. How does grammar expect me to say ‘i got a feeling’ when I’m actually still ‘ getting’ it ?!


  7. I love it !!! Thanks so much, for this article, I feel inspired cuz normally my writing doesn’t look like English :P, I’ll get back to editing my work make it look clearer 😀 !


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