What’s the Past Tense of Wake: Woke or Woken Explained

  • Woke” is the simple past tense, while “woken” is the past participle form of the verb “wake.”
  • Usage of “woke” versus “woken” is determined by the grammatical context of the sentence.
  • Both forms are correct but serve different functions in past and perfect tense constructions.

When we discuss the differences and usage of “woke” and “woken,” context plays a significant role. “Woke” is typically used when describing the act of ceasing to sleep or causing someone to stop sleeping. In contrast, “woken” is used to indicate that the action has been completed, as in “I have woken up early today.” While “woke” and “woken” serve different grammatical purposes, both forms evolve from the same verb and are tied to the concept of “awakening” or becoming alert.

What’s the Past Tense of Wake: Woke or Woken?

Simple Past Tense
The simple past tense of wake is “woke”. This form is used when referring to an event that occurred at a definite point in the past.

Sentence ExampleUse
She woke early this morning.Definite past event
They woke to a loud noise last night.Specific occurrence

Past Participle
“Woken” is the past participle form of wake and is primarily used with auxiliary verbs to form perfect tenses. It is also utilized to create passive voice sentences.

Tense ExampleUse
She has woken up early every day.Present perfect tense
The alarm had woken him before dawn.Past perfect tense

When constructing sentences, it’s crucial to pick the right tense:

  • He woke up late yesterday.
  • She has woken up early all week.

What Does “Wake” Mean?

“Wake” is one such verb that denotes the transition from sleep to a state of alertness. The word is commonly used in various contexts, often pertaining to the act of ceasing to sleep or becoming aware after being unconscious. Here, we examine the straightforward definition and the precise usage of the term “wake.”

The standard past forms of “wake” are a point of common inquiry among learners of English:

Simple PastPast Participle

In general, “woke” is often employed when describing a past event:

  • She woke up early.
  • The noise woke him.
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Whereas “woken” is typically used as the past participle in perfect tenses:

  • They have woken up late.
  • He had woken by the time we arrived.

It is also noteworthy that “wake” can be part of phrasal verbs:

  • Wake up: to stop sleeping
  • Wake someone up: to cause someone to stop sleeping

Conjugations of “Wake”

Simple Past Tense:

  • Woke: I woke early today.
  • Waked: He waked up in time for the meeting. (less common)

Past Participle:
The past participle form is woken, which is used with an auxiliary verb to form perfect tenses.

Present Participle:

  • Waking: She is waking up right now.

Usage in Sentences:

Simple Past:

  • Yesterday, they woke at dawn.
  • The noise waked him from his sleep.

Past Participle:

  • They have woken up to the reality.
  • It has woken the entire neighborhood.

Verb Tables:

Simple Pastwoke/waked
Past Participlewoken
Present Participlewaking

Using “woke” and “woken” appropriately hinges on the tense. The simple past “woke” does not require an auxiliary verb, while “woken” as a past participle pairs with “have,” “has,” or “had.”

Practice Pointers:

  • I woke (past tense) suggests action completed in the past without auxiliary verbs.
  • I have woken (present perfect tense) indicates a past action that has relevance to the present, used with “have” or “has.”

Difference Between “Woke” and “Woken”

Simple Past TensePerfect Tenses
– I woke early.– I have woken up early.

“Woke” is the simple past tense form of “to wake.” This means it is used to describe an action completed in the past. For example:

  • She woke to the sound of birds.
  • He woke at dawn yesterday.

“Woken” is the past participle form. It is used in the present perfect and past perfect tenses, implying that the action has relevance to the present moment or was completed before some other past action. For example:

  • They have woken up late.
  • She had woken up before the alarm sounded.

When forming sentences, keep these rules in mind:

  • Use “woke” when simply stating an action in the past.
  • Use “woken” when you need to show the action’s relevance to the present or another past event.
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Examples in sentences:

  • After the movie, he realized he had woken up early for no reason.
  • Yesterday, they woke up to a winter wonderland.


  • Woke: Simple past action with no connection to the present.
  • Woken: Action completed in relation to the present or another past event.

Examples of “Wake” in the Present Tense (in Sentences)

Simple Present Tense:

  • He wakes up at 6 am every day.
  • She wakes to the sound of the birds chirping.

Present Continuous Tense:

  • They are waking to the situation’s urgency.

In the present simple tense, “wake” is usually accompanied by helpers such as “up” to indicate the action of stopping sleep. In contrast, the present continuous tense, which implies an ongoing action, may suggest that the subject is in the process of becoming aware of something.

PersonSimple PresentPresent Continuous
II wakeI am waking
You (singular/plural)You wakeYou are waking
He/She/ItHe wakesHe is waking
WeWe wakeWe are waking
TheyThey wakeThey are waking

Examples of “Woke” in the Past Tense (in Sentences)

In narrative form:

  • She woke early to catch the sunrise.
  • The noise from the street woke him abruptly.
  • They woke in the middle of the night to a loud thunderstorm.

In reported speech:

  • He said he woke up feeling refreshed.

In a variety of subjects:

II woke to the smell of coffee.
YouYou woke me up with your singing.
He/she/itThe baby woke at the slightest sound.
WeWe woke up late and missed the meeting.
TheyThey woke to find their garden covered in snow.

Use in negative forms:

  • He didn’t wake until noon; he woke.
  • They never woke during the lectures, no matter how dull.

For questions, the use of “woke” remains consistent:

  • Woke you at all during the flight?
Simple Past “Woke”Past Participle “Woken”
I woke up early today.I have woken up early before.
She woke with a start.She had woken up several times throughout the night.

Examples of the Past Participle “Woken” (in Sentences)

The past participle ‘woken’ is used to describe a state resulting from the action of waking up. It’s specifically employed in perfect tenses and sometimes as an adjective. Here, a concise exploration into how ‘woken’ functions within sentences is provided.

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Usage in Perfect Tenses:

TenseExample Sentence
Present PerfectThey have woken early to catch the sunrise.
Past PerfectShe had woken by the time he arrived.
Future PerfectBy noon, the late risers will have finally woken.

Adjectival Use:

  • Her woken state was evident from her alert eyes.
  • The baby remained peaceful in his woken moments.

Synonyms of “Wake”

Awaken: Generally used in a more formal or literary context, this term suggests the act of coming out of sleep or into a state of awareness.

  • Rouse: Often implies a stronger action, like waking someone who is in a deep sleep or unconscious.

Examine the lists below for a clearer understanding of these synonyms and their nuances.

Common Synonyms

WordUse Case
AwakenShe awakened at dawn to the sound of birdsong.
RouseThe alarm roused him from a deep sleep.
StirHe began to stir as the sunlight crept through the curtains.
AriseThey usually arise early to start their day with exercise.

Less Common Synonyms

WordUse Case
BestirAfter a moment of laziness, she bestirred herself to start cleaning.
WakenThe child wakens at the slightest noise.
Come toHe finally came to after being knocked out during the match.
  • Stir: Often used to describe a gentle beginning of movement or the start of becoming wakeful.
  • Arise: Can mean both to get up from a lying position and to wake, it carries an air of formality or ceremony.
  • Bestir: An old-fashioned term that implies a reluctant or effortful waking.
  • Waken: A variant of ‘awaken’, but less commonly used today.

Come to: Typically used when someone regains consciousness or recovers from a state of unconsciousness.

Phrases with the Word “Wake”

In English, the word “wake” is versatile and appears in a variety of phrases that convey different meanings in various contexts. Here are some common phrases which incorporate the word “wake”:

Common Idiomatic Phrases

  • Wake-up call: Often used metaphorically, this phrase signifies a realization or event that prompts a person to change their course of action or to become aware of a situation.
  • In the wake of: This expression refers to something occurring after an event or as a consequence of an event.
  • Wake-up to reality: A phrase that suggests someone needs to become aware of the true nature of a situation.

Phrases Used in Social Contexts

These phrases are often employed when discussing social events or gatherings:

Informal PhraseUse in a Sentence
Wake the dead“Her scream was so loud, it could wake the dead!”
Wake and bake“On his day off, he enjoyed a leisurely wake and bake.”
Don’t wake the bear“Don’t ask him about work today; let’s not wake the bear.”

Specialized Terms Involving “Wake”

In more specialized contexts, “wake” can be used in terms such as:

Maritime TermDescription
Ship’s wakeThe trail of waves left by a boat as it moves through water.
Wake turbulenceThe disturbed air left behind an aircraft, which can be hazardous for following aircraft.

Origin of the Word “Wake”

The English verb “wake” boasts a rich linguistic history, deriving from a complex interplay of Old English and Middle English. Its past forms, “woke” and “woken,” can trace their roots to early Germanic languages, reflecting a time when English shared more in common with its Germanic cousins.

Lines of Etymology:

  • The immediate predecessor of the modern English “wake” is the Old English “wacan,” symbolizing the process of becoming awake.
  • Middle English contributed its version, “waken,” a variant indicating the action to stop sleeping.

Grammatical Journey:
The evolution of the past tense reflects changes in grammatical standards over centuries. Once, multiple past-tense forms coexisted, representing different nuances and uses.

Here are two tables illustrating the evolution of the word “wake” over time:

EraVerb FormUsage Example
Old Englishwacan“Ic wace from sleep.”
Middle Englishwaken“I waked at dawn’s light.”


EraPast FormsUsage Example
Modern Englishwoke“Yesterday, I woke early.”
Modern Englishwoken“I have woken up late.”

Commonly, “woke” serves as the simple past tense, and “woken” as the past participle.

In understanding “wake,” one uncovers a tapestry of historical usage:

  • Early Usage: Often signifying an alertness or readiness.
  • Modern Relevance: Holds steadfast in contemporary usage, emphasizing the transition from sleep to wakefulness.

Wake” is an exemplar of the dynamism present in the English language, showcasing etymology as living history that speakers enact daily. Its continuance is a testament to the evolving nature of language, adapting across time and sociocultural shifts.


  1. Harper, Douglas. “Etymology of wake.” Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  2. Definition of wake Collins English Dictionary.

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