Q&A: The Force Awakens vs Wakens vs Wakes?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re in a galaxy far far away…

Q: Hey, I finally got around to seeing the new Star Wars film.
A: So do you have a grammar related question about it?
Q: Well Yoda isn’t in it, so saved from that topic, we are.
A: Indeed.
Q: Actually I did have a question. The movie is called “The Force Awakens” – so can you run through the differences between “awaken” vs “waken” vs “awoken” vs “woke” vs “wake” vs “Wookiee”, etc.
A: Okay, we can’t help you with that last one, but we’ll have a go at the rest. “Wake” is an irregular verb – meaning it doesn’t simply add “–ed” to form its past tenses.
Q: Can we call it a “rebel” instead?
A: No. No we can’t. There are FOUR present tense variants – wake, awake, waken, awaken. They can all be used interchangeably and either as an intransitive verb (which means there is no object, it’s just you), or as a transitive verb, which involves an…
Q: I will finish what you started. Object. It involves an object.
A: Great, kid. Don’t get cocky. Intransitive examples would be: “I wake at 6am every day. I awake at 6am. I awaken at 6am. I waken at 6am.”
Q: Are they really all acceptable?
A: They actually are, although some probably sound better than others.
Q: So the transitive options would be?
A: “I wake Dave at 6am. I awake Dave at 6am. I waken Dave at 6am. I awaken Dave at 6am.”
Q: Dave should really just get an alarm clock.
A: Good point. And again, you can use whichever sounds best.
Q: So you’re saying it could have been “Star Wars: The Force Wakens” or “Wakes” or “Awakes”?
A: Yes. But they went with the better sounding one. You could say the force was stronger in that one.
Q: Nice. So isn’t it pretty odd to have so many words meaning the same thing? English is a mess.
A: We find your lack of faith disturbing. But yes, it’s a little messy.
Q: So what are the rules with past tense?
A: Well, “wake” becomes “woke” and “awake” becomes “awoke”. But then “waken” becomes “wakened” and “awaken” becomes “awakened”.
Q: I’ve got a bad feeling about this. So “She woke” and “She awoke” are the same?
A: Yes, you can use either. But using “awoke” in this case may seem a little more archaic. Same with the transitive verb – i.e. “I woke the neighbours” versus “I awoke the neighbours”.
Q: So are “wakened” or “awakened” ever used?
A: Not as often – they’re certainly more “literary” sounding.
Q: Wait a minute. I just woke up to the fact that we’re missing “woken” and “awoken”. Where did they go?
A: Good spotting. They didn’t join the others at the rendezvous point. Instead, they are forms of the past perfect tense of “wake” and “awake” respectively.
Q: Examples?
A: “I wasn’t sure if I’d woken you.” Or, “R2-D2 had awoken at a convenient moment.”
Q: So what about “waked” and “awaked”? Do they actually exist? I’ve heard rumours…
A: It’s true. The past tense. The past participle, all of it – they’re real. But the other synonyms just do a better job most of the time. It’s rare to see “waked” or “awaked” instead of “woken” or “awoken”.
Q: Are there other verbs like these?
A: Yes. Speak – spoke – spoken and break – broke – broken follow a near identical path. But these aren’t the verbs you’re looking for. “Wake” is certainly unique in the number of lookalike friends it brings along for the ride.
Q: Thanks. I’ll try to remember all of this.
A: Do. Or do not. There is no try.
Q: Haha. I’m amazed C-3PO ever managed to become fluent in this form of communication…


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