To look up an entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, use the search window above. For best results, after typing in the word, click on the “Search” button instead of using the “enter” key.

Some compound words (like bus rapid transit, dog whistle, or identity theft) don’t appear on the drop-down list when you type them in the search bar. For best results with compound words, place a quotation mark before the compound word in the search window.

guide to the dictionary



The Usage Panel is a group of nearly 200 prominent scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language. Annual surveys have gauged the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.

The Panelists



Go to our Crossword Puzzle Solver and type in the letters that you know, and the Solver will produce a list of possible solutions.



The new American Heritage Dictionary app is now available for iOS and Android.



The articles in our blog examine new words, revised definitions, interesting images from the fifth edition, discussions of usage, and more.


See word lists from the best-selling 100 Words Series!

Find out more!



Check out the Dictionary Society of North America at

wake 1 (wāk)
v. woke (wōk) or waked (wākt), waked or wok·en (wōkən), wak·ing, wakes
a. To cease to sleep; become awake: overslept and woke late.
b. To stay awake: Bears wake for spring, summer, and fall and hibernate for the winter.
c. To be brought into a state of awareness or alertness: suddenly woke to the danger we were in.
2. To hold or attend the wake of someone who has died.
1. To cause to come out of sleep; awaken.
2. To stir, as from a dormant or inactive condition; rouse: wake old animosities.
3. To make aware; alert or enlighten: The report woke me to the facts of the matter.
1. A gathering of people in the presence of the body of a deceased person in order to honor the person and console one another.
2. wakes (used with a sing. or pl. verb) Chiefly British
a. A parish festival held annually, often in honor of a patron saint.
b. An annual vacation.

[Middle English wakien, waken, from Old English wacan, to wake up and wacian, to be awake, keep watch; see weg- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

waker n.

Usage Note: The pairs wake, waken and awake, awaken have formed a bewildering array since the Middle English period. All four words have similar meanings, though there are some differences in use. Only wake is used in the sense "to be awake," as in expressions like waking (not wakening) and sleeping, every waking hour. Wake is also more common than waken when used together with up, and awake and awaken never occur in this context: She woke up (rarely wakened up; never awakened up or awoke up). Some writers have suggested that waken should be used only transitively (as in The alarm wakened him) and awaken only intransitively (as in He awakened at dawn), but there is ample literary precedent for usages such as He wakened early and They did not awaken her. In figurative senses awake and awaken are more prevalent: With the governor's defeat, the party awoke to the strength of the opposition. The scent of the gardenias awakened my memory of his unexpected appearance that afternoon years ago. · Regional American dialects vary in the way that certain verbs form their principal parts. Northern dialects seem to favor forms that change the internal vowel in the verbhence dove for the past tense of dive, and woke for wake: They woke up with a start. Southern dialects, on the other hand, tend to prefer forms that add an -ed to form the past tense and the past participle of these same verbs: The children dived into the swimming hole. The baby waked up early.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
wake 2 (wāk)
1. The visible track of turbulence left by something moving through water: the wake of a ship.
2. A track, course, or condition left behind something that has passed: The war left destruction and famine in its wake.
in the wake of
1. Following directly on.
2. In the aftermath of; as a consequence of.

[Possibly from Middle Low German, hole in the ice, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse vök.]
(click for a larger image)

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

This website is best viewed in Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Safari. Some characters in pronunciations and etymologies cannot be displayed properly in Internet Explorer.