Wake versus Waken versus Awake versus Awaken

While editing an eBook, I stumbled over the “wake versus awake” dilemma. The sentence was “he’ll go into a sleep from which he’ll never waken.” This was my first suggestion. Then I stopped and thought: should I have used “awaken?” I thought all three words meant the same thing. Not quite – each word has different slivers of meaning. I looked up awaken in the dictionary and got this definition: cause to stop sleeping, rouse from a deep sleep. It carried a literary meaning, too, so awaken wasn’t the word I wanted. Didn’t think it would get so confusing.

Let’s look at the four words and what they really mean. It gets more interesting when you examine their past tenses. All of these words can be used transitively or intransitively. I’ve used some of my best curse words struggling through this conundrum. Is it wakened or woken? I sometimes wish I had a cheat sheet for all my issues with grammar.

Events in Barbara Custer's City of Brotherly Death caused the zombies to awaken.

Has this zombie awakened, woke, or wakened? Either way, he’s dangerous.

Awaken (past: awakened, have awakened)

Transitive: rouse from a deep sleep. Example: The onslaught of zombies awakened Alexis’ warrior instinct.

Intransitive: to arise or spring into existence. Example: I awakened during the night when I heard the scratching.

Awake (past: awaked or awoke; have awaked, have awoken)

Transitive: To rouse (someone or something) from sleep. The alarms awaked (or awoke) him from a deep sleep.

Intransitive: To come out of the state of sleep. Example: The zombie awakes and he’s getting hungry. Very hungry.

Wake (past: waked or woke; have waked or woken)

Transitive: to make alert. Example:  The shushing sounds of the balloons woke her gently.

Intransitive: to stop sleeping or remain awake. When the zombie woke, he bit the nearest person.

Waken (wakened or have wakened)

Transitive: to rouse (a person or animal) from sleep. Example: The poisonous chemical wakened the zombie.

Intransitive: to wake; stop sleeping; to become awake. Alexis wakened during the night after a bad dream.

Looking at these definitions, I have my choice of verbs. I went with “waken,” but I could have used “awaken” or “wake.” Wake, wake up, and waken are the most commonly used words to describe rousing a sleeper. Awake and awaken carry a literary and theologian connotation that wake and waken does not. Examples: The teacher’s methods awakened creativity within me. The sinner awakened to his misdeeds. Another important difference: for past tense, always use the weak standard with awaken and waken. So it’s awakened, have awakened, but never awokened; and wakened, have wakened, respectively.

Do you find yourself struggling with look-alike words?


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About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
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  1. Happy Halloween!
    Thanks for the chance to win!
    natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

  2. Interesting. I don’t know that I have trouble with those words. Honestly, my brain’s pretty tired, so maybe I do. Yesterday I saw my editor giving a pro tip about not using nouns as verbs, mine having been spasm, (i.e. the character spasmed). Fun ways how our language makes our lives more difficult.

  3. Fascinating. I sometimes post on my blog about words that have interesting histories or multiple definitions that seem to be at odds with one another. It’s what makes English so fun and rich.

    • I too have other blogs about English words that can confuse – most notably, lie versus lay. I once heard that English is the most challenging language to learn. 🙂

  4. A good collection of words to be wrangled with! 😉

  5. That zombie looks scary, no matter if he’s awaken or he woke up by himself!

    This is a very helpful post. It’s funny how simple things like these can stump us when writing, right? Thanks for sharing. =)

  6. The English language can be so elusive with it’s word meanings!

  7. I edit for other people. I have come to hate to, two, and too, as well as a selection of other homonyms. For me, the worst look-alike instance has always been affect vs. effect.

  8. You are indeed fortunate. 🙂

  9. There are many of these trip wires out there. I am blessed to have my wife edit for me and she catches all of those mistakes I make.

  10. I never thought about until I was editing my story. 🙂

  11. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I try to consider the mood of the story, too. 🙂

  12. A lot of people do. I found that out when I was researching the meanings. 🙂

  13. I love the flavour each word brings. Sometime so hard to decide the spice the sentence requires.

  14. Never thought about that till now. I’m ising awaken.

  15. I know what you mean, I often have problems with those particularly pesky words.

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