“Proved” vs. “Proven”: Which One Should You Use?

When it comes to making a new friend, would you say she has proven trustworthy or she has proved trustworthy? The common phrase innocent until proven guilty may come to mind—so does this mean proven is acceptable and proved is not? The answer may surprise you. Although we sincerely hope you don’t have reason to use this particular legal phrase in your own personal life, you should familiarize yourself with the differences and similarities between proved and proven, two commonly confused words.

The history of proved vs. proven

The debate between Team Proved and Team Proven has been going on for centuries. Both words are forms of the verb prove, which means “to establish truth through evidence or argument.” Both words are past participles, which basically means they completed actions that took place in the past. A past participle is frequently used with a helping verb (like has, have, or had), as in I had proved my point.

Let us lend you a helping hand in figuring out when to use have vs. has.

Proved is the older form of the word. Proved is both a past participle and also the past tense of proveI proved you wrong is an example of the word being used in the past tense. When proved is used as the past tense, it could never be exchanged with proven.

But proved and proven both function as past participles, so they cause confusion. Why is that? Well, basically, over time the word prove developed a second past participle form: proven. Geoffrey Chaucer used proven in his works from the 1300s, but it wasn’t that quickly accepted in the literary world. Proven was mostly used in legal contexts for a long time. In the 1800s, British poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson used it frequently in his work. So we can assume it had caught on by then. But proved remained much more common in written work since 1750 and up until the 1980s, when the two began to appear in similar numbers.

How do you use proved and proven?

Today, both proved and proven are now considered correct. Still, two major style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook, prefer proved as the past participle. Throughout the 1800s, grammar guides recommended proved over proven, and that advice has stuck with us to a certain extent.

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Proven is most commonly used as an adjective before the noun it modifies. For example: The new team owner has a proven track record of success in the business world. Here, proven describes (or modifies) track record. Another example would be Honey is a proven remedy for a sore throat. In this case, proven describes the type of remedy honey is.

As a past participle, proven is the accepted form in Scotland and the preferred form throughout North America. Proved tends to be the word of choice in England, although even the British use proven on occasion. Some familiar phrases (like innocent until proven guilty) are readily accepted as correct by both American and British style guides.

Some grammar experts will insist that proven should only ever be an adjective. However, its use as a past participle of prove is widely accepted by dictionaries and style guides.

At the end of the day, proved and proven are pretty much interchangeable. You can basically go with whichever sounds best with the rhythm and flow of the sentence.

Another pair of words that have proven difficult to use is "that" vs. "which." Find out when to use each one.

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