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.
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.
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…