Now, I've got a question related to writing one, in my opinion interesting, word: gnawn as the past participle of to gnaw. Would it be understood, and sound okay, and be perfectly correct? Dictionaries do list this past-participle form of to gnaw, but I'm afraid of it being too obsolete.

  1. The motor of my old, corroded chainsaw had been completely gnawn by some rust when I came back.
  2. The stick thrown to that beaver was gnawn by it, as it was very hungry.

3 Answers 3


Merriam-Webster does not seem to recognize 'gnawn' as a word, and for that matter neither would I.


While I do see other links available that reference 'gnawn', they are third party and, I think, shouldn't be taken for proper grammatical advice.

On the other hand, if you wanted to be a bit creative and use a non-standard word that a reader might be able to understand if they stretched their brain a bit, you could still go ahead and do so.

However, further than obsolete, I would posit that 'gnawn' is simply not a word.

  • 1
    Outside of literature (e.g. if going for an old-fashioned or fantasy feel), I would avoid "gnawn". Google NGram suggests that "gnawed" has been far more common since their earliest date of 1800.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 15 at 9:38

The OED sees "gnawn" as an adjective:

gnawn, adj.

Etymology: past participle of gnaw v.

Bitten away, corroded.

1582 R. Stanyhurst tr. Virgil First Foure Bookes Æneis i. 4 Thee southwynd merciles eager Three gallant vessels on rocks gnawne craggye reposed.

1583 P. Barrough Methode of Phisicke ii. x. 70 You must restore the gnawen partes with meates of good iuice.

1784 M. Madan tr. Persius Sat. (1795) 37 Nor does he beat his desk, nor taste his gnawn nails.

And as the past participle of to gnaw:

1801 R. Southey Thalaba II. x. 247 The years that it has gnawn me! and the load Of sin that it has laid upon my soul!

However, after 1801 above, "gnawed" seems to have taken its place:

1832 E. Bulwer-Lytton Eugene Aram I. i. ix. 143 Silently,..he had gnawed his heart.

The Google Ngram is very clear: "gnawn" was rare and for the last 200 years "gnawed" is the adjective and past participle:

Ngram gnawed/gnawn

  • Used until 1834, eh? Late Early Modern English? Feb 15 at 16:55

Wiktionary has an entry under gnawn, labelling it as archaic:

(archaic) past participle of gnaw

  • c. 1597, William Shakespeare, The Merry VViues of VVindsor, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act II, scene ii], page 47:

ſee the hell of hauing a false woman : my bed ſhall be abus'd, my Coffers ranſack'd, my reputation gnawne at, and I ſhall only receiue this villanous wrong, but ſtand vnder the adoption of abhominable termes...

Garner's Modern American Usage does the same, but gives an example from 1995:

The form gnawn is an archaic past participle—e.g.:

In the end Kent scored 250, which, on a comfortable pitch, more or less guaranteed gnawn [read gnawed] umbrellas. (Christopher Martin-Jenkins, “Benson and Hedges Cup,” Daily Telegraph)

However, Collins simply states that gnawn is used in AE:

in American English
a pp. of gnaw.

But when you search Ngram for both AE and BE, you will find that gnawn is indeed HARDLY preferred:

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