The Grammatical History of ‘Awaken””Awoken””Awakened’

Verbs wake up And awaken both mean “wake up from sleep.” The most common deformation of wake up is the past wake up (‘she woke up suddenly’) and past participle awaken (‘she was woken up suddenly’). The most common deformation of awaken is the past awaken (‘he woke up in the night’) and past participle awaken (‘he was awakened in the night’).

What’s one of the first things you do in the morning when you wake up? Maybe it’s wondering if you should say awaken there instead awaken. Or it should be awaken? Or awakenMaybe?

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There are two verbs in Old English that mean “to get up from sleep,” but one has a regular inflection and the other an irregular inflection.

If these questions keep you up at night, you’re not alone. Bryan A. Garner in his work Garner’s Modern English Usage say wake up And awaken is “probably the most annoying [verbs] in language.” As Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Use note, “wake up is a verb that has yet to settle down from its long and tangled history.” Everyone gets confused.

Origin of Awake and Awaken

The confusion started back in the first millennium. There are two Old English verbs that mean “wake up”: intransitive wake up and forward awacians. The two verbs have very similar infinitives, and thus they began to influence each other in Late Old English. The problem, however, is that one of those verbs had what we now consider a regular inflection (wake up, awaken, awaken) and the other has what we now consider anomalous distortion (wake up, wake up, awaken).

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Since then, the changing history of wake up become a mess. One of the frequent changes, awakenhas life as its own verb and is invariably regular (awaken, awaken, awaken). Core verbs start to come together in Middle English, which means that the present has two possible past tense forms to choose from: awaken And wake up. So it’s perfectly permissible to say “she’s awakened” (using awaken), “she woke up” (using a variation of wake up) and “she woke up” (using another variation of wake up).

Introducing Awakening

But English speakers like consistency, and by the 16th century we introduced the poetic early past participle of wake up to match the past tense wake up: awaken (as in “they woke up”). That gives us

awakening, awakening/awakening, awakening/awakening Andwake up, wake up, wake up

No wonder we can’t figure out how to get out of bed.

Current usage

At this time, our evidence suggests that the most common changes of wake up To be wake up in the past simple (“he woke up”) and awaken as past participle (“she woke up”). The most common deformation of awaken continue to be awaken in the past (“he awakened”) and awaken as past participle (“she woke up”). It helps if you remember that awaken And wake up are different verbs, and that awaken is regular. Maybe don’t think about it too much when you first wake up.

Categories: Usage Notes

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