Wake, Waken, Awaken? Maybe I’ll Just Stay in Bed

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English verbs cause trouble, but some are more troublesome than others; take the various ways we can refer to starting a new day: wake, wake up, waken, awake, or awaken. Then there are the various forms: woke, woken, woken up, waked, waked up, waking, waking up, waken, awoke, awoken, awaking, awakened, awakening. Which of these is correct and when?

Good news. Pretty much all of them are correct.

I got to thinking about this after reading a blog post my daughter published in which she wrote, “We had all woken up just ten minutes earlier.” We had woken up just didn’t sound right to me, so I did some research. I ended up apologizing to my kid; there’s nothing wrong with it.

We actually have four distinct but nearly identical words for rousing from sleep: wake, waken, awake, awaken. If you consider it a different word, you could add the phrasal verb wake up, which is identical in meaning to wake, but more casual.

In other words, you could safely choose any of the following:

  • On Tuesdays, I wake at six.
  • On Tuesdays, I wake up at six.
  • On Tuesdays, I waken at six.
  • On Tuesdays, I awake at six.
  • On Tuesdays, I awaken at six.

Of course, you could also say, rise, arise, get up, get out of bed, rouse myself or desist from slumber, but isn’t it strange that there are this many synonyms that so closely resemble one another? [Answer: Yes, it is strange.]

There are some who have suggested that wake and awake should be used only intransitively and waken and awaken only transitively. In other words, we should say,

I wake at noon, or I awake at noon.

but

I waken my sister at noon, or I awaken my sister at noon.

Nothing wrong with that, but there’s no justification for insisting on it as a rule. There are innumerable examples of published works that use wake and awake transitively and waken and awaken intransitively. (If you need a brush up on what transitive and intransitive mean, go here.)

Not only do you have your choice of word, but in each case, you also have your choice of tense. It’s equally correct to say:

I woke yesterday at noon, or I waked yesterday at noon.

(Normally, I woke up  is preferred over I waked up.)

I awoke yesterday at noon, or I awaked yesterday at noon. (Awaked is admittedly rare.)

For waken and awaken, however, just the -ed form is used in the past tense: wakened and awakened.

For the past perfect tense, you could say:

I have awoken, or I have awaked.

I have woken, or I have waked.

I have woken up, or I have waked up.

I have wakened, or I have awakened.

It’s almost entirely a matter of preference. It might have been easier, in fact, to just list what doesn’t work:

I awokened.

I have woke.

I done wakeded, etc.

Enough. You get the idea. I just hope this discussion has been interesting enough to keep you awake.

*****

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Linda
    Linda05-16-2012

    Good point! But then, there’s always style to consider. :)

  2. Linda
    Linda05-14-2012

    I hadn’t given a lot of thought to all the alternative ways to describe moving from a state of slumber to consciousness. Now I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities. Which to choose? Which to choose? That is the question. And to think, the world was so simple when I woke up or . . . would awakened sound better? or maybe I should go with awoke . . . this morning. Sigh. Decision-making has never been my long suit. Or should that be strong suit? Could be either, so the dictionary says. Ahh, just another day in the interesting, perplexing, and often vexing life of a writing coach. :)

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-14-2012

      On the other hand, Linda, it’s one area you don’t have to worry about correcting in your students’ writing. Pretty much any way of saying it is correct. :)

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