Awake and Wake

Awake, awaken, wake, and waken, and are all verbs that share similar roots and therefore meaning. But there is some confusion because they can mean either “to rouse” or “to become roused”. In any event, waken is not often found in modern usage (so let’s forget that one right away!). Also note that “awakened” is preferred to “awaked”, the latter being an archaic form.

VerbPastPast ParticiplePresent Participle
AwakeAwokeAwokenAwaking
Awakened
AwakenAwakenedAwakenedAwakening
WakeWokeWokenWaking
WakedWakened
WakenWakedWakenedWakening

Before proceeding further, a quick note about the table. I have included the present participle to complete the picture. But, what are participles? They are not verbs, per se, but usually function as an adjective. They also do not have a subject nor show tense. For example, in the sentence,  “Gerald repaired the broken kettle,” the word “broken” (past participle) is acting as an adjective describing the kettle. The verb in this sentence is, of course, “repaired”.  As for a present participle example, consider this: “Harry is finally waking up.” The word “waking” is the present participle, depending on the verb “is”. Note that you can use “up” with wake, but not with awake.

Awake and Wake

Both awake and wake can be used as transitive verbs (they need an object) or intransitive verbs (they do not need an object):

Awake.
• Intransitive: to come out of the state of sleep; to cease to sleep.
• Transitive: to arouse 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.

Awake and wake evolved from two Old English verbs, one of which was “strong” and the other one of which was “weak.” This is why there is some confusion about their past tense forms.

Certain Old English (OE) “strong” verbs developed past tense forms ending 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 remained part of our language because they express different slivers of meaning about waking and wakefulness.

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

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

In summary

It seems to me that awake is active in the sense that you wake yourself up. Whereas wake is passive in the sense that someone else wakes you up.

But 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. But it’s a good idea to stay away from inventions like “awokened.” You can further reduce the jumble by excluding “awaked” and “waken” from your lexicon.

So only “wake up” is correct. I suggest you sleep on it. You will feel better tomorrow.

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By Nigel Benetton, science fiction author of Red Moon and The Sands of Rotar.

Last updated: Friday, 17 April 2020