Past Forms of 'Wake'

Here’s another item from the “People are annoying me so you need to tell them to stop” mailbag.

<<Something that drives me crazy is the word “awake.” I hear newscasters saying, “I was woked up.” He "woked me up." "I was waked up," "wokened up." Could you please do an article on proper usage of the word? Articles in newspapers are always using it incorrectly too, so it isn't just young people who have their words autocorrected. It's adults who are intelligent but must have been absent on the days when they had spelling and grammar. Thanks for your help....>>

I understand what this person was asking. She wanted me to write a column about a usage problem she’s noticed. But requests of this nature always rub my journalistic sensibilities the wrong way. As a former news reporter, I’m pretty invested in the idea that the news media’s job is to inform readers, not to exploit their attentions by telling them how they should talk in order to stop bugging one person.

On the other hand, a good topic is a good topic. And though I’ve never heard anyone say they were woked, I agree that past tenses and past participles of wake and awaken are tricky.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “wake” gives you a number of past-tense forms to choose from.

For the simple past tense, Merriam-Webster’s prefers “woke.” But it also recognizes “waked.”

Yesterday I woke.

Yesterday I waked.

And, yes, you can use “up” if you want to with any of these, according to Webster’s.

Yesterday I woke up.

Yesterday I waked up.

As for the past participles, Webster’s allows three forms. (Remember that past participles the ones that work with forms of “have.”) For wake, the preferred past participle is “woken.” But they also allow “waked” and “woke.”

In the past I have woken.

In the past I have waked.

In the past I have woke.

In the past I have woken up.

In the past I have waked up.

In the past I have woke up.

So two of our correspondent’s examples are, in fact, wrong. There is no woked. But it’s not wrong to say “I was waked up.”

This form is a little different from our other examples because it’s passive. But passive participles are identical in form to past participles. (Pete had eaten the cake. The cake was eaten by Pete.) So that means that, yes, you can say “I was waked up” if you like.