It has been drawn to my attention that I may not be using the verb 'awake'correctly in the active and passive. Please could someone confirm that I have now got this right.

In their simple present tenses they are: Active, 'I awake each morning at 6.00am'; and passive, 'I am awaken each morning by an alarm clock'.

Past tenses therefore are: Active, 'I awoke this morning at 5.00am'; and Passive, 'I was awaken by the sound of thunder'.

Perfect: Active, 'I have awoken early all my life'; and passive, 'I have often been awakened by a passing train'

Pluperfect: Active,'I had awoken by the time the phone rang'; and passive, ' I had been awakened by noises downstairs'.

Which other verbs behave in this way?

  • There are two different verbs here, awake and awaken. You are using one in the active and the other in the passive. Why does English have two different verbs which mean essentially the same thing? Probably for the same reason it has lie and lay: the two verbs diverged in pronunciation historically, and acquired different uses. With awake and awaken, the two different uses may be unique to you (although I'd guess most likely not). Jan 29, 2014 at 20:25
  • I have never heard someone say they "awake each morning". It may be correct, but it sounds awkward. Generally, it's "wake-up". Jan 29, 2014 at 20:28
  • I am awakened each morning . . . is a form I have never seen. I thought the past participle of awaken was awakened.
    – Babs
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:35
  • @Babs, it is. Is there a typo in your comment? You appear to be saying that you have never seen the form that you thought to be the correct form (?). Jan 29, 2014 at 20:37
  • @Janus. Darn. It's a typo. Lost my credibility on that one. I have never seen I am awaken.
    – Babs
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:47

2 Answers 2


This is part of quite a complex group of verbs that are, and have been throughout the history of the English language, frequently (con)fused in various ways.

The OED’s entrance on awake has a very thorough etymological description, which I quote here with some edits (removing extraneous details that obscure more than they clarify and highlighting a few things):

In this, as in the simple wake, two early verbs are mixed up; the form-history being complicated with that of awaken, as the sense-history is with that of awecche (q.v.).

For the intransitive verb, Old English has awæcnan, awōc, awacen, compound of wæcnan, wōc, wacen, the present stem having a formative -n-: wak-n-. This present began already in Old English to be treated as a weak verb, with past tense awæcnede; whence modern English awaken, awakened. Late Old English had also a weak verb awacian, awacode, in form a compound of wacian, wacode ‘to watch, keep awake’, but in sense identical with awæcnan, and perhaps originating in a confusion of the two. This gave Middle and modern English awake, awaked.

After the weak form awakened came into common use (as past tense of awaken), the original relation of awoke and its past participle to that verb became obscured; and later instinct, in accordance with the general analogies of the language, has referred them to awake, treating them as strong equivalents of awaked.

Of all these forms the sense was in Old English only intransitive ‘to arise or come out of sleep,’ the transitive (causal) sense of ‘rouse from sleep’ being expressed by the derivative awęcc(e)an, Middle English awecche (cf. German erwecken); but soon after 1100, awake began to be used in this sense also, and at length superseded awecche, which is not found after 1300.

There has been some tendency, especially in later times, to restrict the strong past tense (awoke) and past participle (awaken) to the original intransitive sense; and the weak inflection (awakened) to the transitive sense, but this has never been fully carried out.

The strong past participle awaken was already in 13th cent. reduced to awake, and at length became merely an adjective (mostly predicative), after which a new form from the past tense, awoken was substituted; but the weak form awaked is also in common use. (Shakespeare used only the weak inflections.)

Add to this what they have to say about awaken:

Old English awæcnan ‘to waken’. In Old English awæcnan was a strong verb with past tense and participle awōc, awacen. But sometimes the present stem (being irregular) was mistaken for a weak verb, whence already in 9th cent. the past awæcnede, modern awakened, which is now treated as the proper past tense, while awoke and its accompanying past participle are referred to the originally weak awake. Like awake, this was also at first strictly intransitive; the transitive use is of comparatively recent appearance, but now the most frequent.

– and we get a very muddled picture indeed. Especially when there is also the uncompounded verbs wake and waken to consider (they’re as convoluted).

My personal feeling, which corresponds quite well with the OED’s examples and description, is that both awake and awaken have the possibility to be used both transitively and intransitively, but that by far the most common usage is that awake is intransitive while awaken is transitive.

Moreover, awake is strong (awake, awoke, have awoken) while awaken is weak (awaken, awakened, have awakened).

In other words, I would say, intransitively:

I awake at six o’clock every morning.
I awoke at six o’clock yesterday morning.
I had already awoken when the alarm went off at six o’clock this morning.

– but transitively:

I awaken him at six o’clock every morning.
I awakened him at six o’clock yesterday morning.
I had already awakened him when the alarm went off at six o’clock this morning.

(However I say it, of course, it’s a big fat lie—there’s no way I’m awake at six in the morning. But that’s incidental.)

The opposite usages are historically well-founded, but (as mentioned in the highlighted paragraph in the etymology above) there has been a tendency to move away from them over recent centuries, and they often sound downright jarring to me, though not always. For example, “I awake him at six every morning” sounds quite ungrammatical to my ear, whereas “I was awoken at six this morning” sounds only somewhat ‘off’, and the Enya song I May Not Awaken sounds perfectly fine. (This is where the comments on the question that spurred this question become relevant: the usage there is transitive, as in “I awake him at six every morning”, and sounds downright ungrammatical to my ear.)

Of course, in actual, practical usage, I’m much more likely to use wake up (which is indifferent to transitivity) in both cases; but that’s irrelevant to the discussion about these particular verbs.

  • I was going to give the etymology with mine, but gave up, they were so entangled and originally separated by less that 100 years. Jan 29, 2014 at 21:12
  • @Susan, that’s why you got your answer in quicker than I did mine. ;-) Jan 29, 2014 at 21:13
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Thank you for this prodigious reply. It seems I do less than justice by awarding you the 'correct' answer and many thanks to Susan too. However, I still have a question. You originally took me to task for saying 'I was awoken'. Are you now saying that is possible or not? I'm not sure.
    – WS2
    Jan 29, 2014 at 21:26
  • @WS2, I would say that “I was awoken” is possible, but to my ear, it sounds a bit ‘off’. Not quite ungrammatical, but ‘off’. The version that sounded quite wrong to me was, “I hope I have awoken your interest”, where we are dealing not with a passive, but a true transitive usage. Jan 29, 2014 at 21:29
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    @WS2: fwiw, the figures in Google books are was awaken to:378, was awoken to:1270, was awakened to:309,000. I wouldn't even bother with the history or grammatical correctness issues - just go with the vast majority on that one and ignore any criticism. Safety in numbers! Jan 29, 2014 at 23:03

The words awake and awaken are two words that mean pretty much same thing. As

awake: To rouse from sleep, waken; to become alert.

The simple present is I awake

Infinitive: to awake
Participle: awaked; awoken; awoke
Gerund: awaking present passive: I am awaked/awoken/awoke.
simple past is: I awaked/awoke

awaken - To awake; waken; cause to become awake or conscious

Infinitive: to awaken
Participle: awakened
Gerund: awakening
present passive: I am awakened.
simple past is: I awakened

note the difference is awaken does not take the '-woke' form

The passive voice isn't really a tense. The essential components of the English passive voice are a form of the auxiliary verb be (or sometimes get), and the past participle of the main verb denoting the action.

  • Thanks for this contribution. But I cannot say I have ever heard anyone say 'I am awaked' nor 'I am awoke'. However it was JBJ's objection to my use of 'I was awoken' which began all this.
    – WS2
    Jan 29, 2014 at 21:40
  • @WS2 - I must agree with you there. I can imagine its use 2-500 years ago, though. But I can't say I ever heard it. Jan 29, 2014 at 21:43

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