Proved vs. proven

Proven is usually an adjective (e.g., a proven formula), and proved is usually the inflected form of the verb prove (e.g., I proved it; I have proved it). This is not a rule, though, and exceptions abound, especially in American English, where proven is often used as a participial inflection of the verb. For example, where a British writer is likely to write I have proved you wrong, an American writer might write I have proven you wrong.

Both forms are many centuries old. Proven appears in the 15th-century works of Chaucer, for instance. But proved has always been the prevalent inflection ever since prove emerged from its pre-Middle English roots, and only over the last century or so has proven gained significant ground. This doesn’t mean proven is wrong, though. It is a very well-established form, and only a few people from outside North America consider it questionable. 


These writers use proven (as an adjective) and proved (in the past and perfect tenses) according to modern conventions:

Traders can use divergence analysis and proven indicators like the Advance/Decline Line to identify critical market turning points. [Forbes]

The African Union, in fact, has proved itself both unwilling and, when it does attempt to act, incompetent to deal with sub-Saharan Africa’s chronic crisis. [Winnipeg Free Press]

So he would bring to the job both unique internationalist credentials and a proven ability to get big things done. [Financial Times]

The Lions have proved that a home team can, in fact, win at the Gabba this year. [Brisbane Times]

But proven often appears in perfect-tense constructions—for example:

It is in this context that Jean-François Kahn’s phrase has proven equally infelicitous and illuminating. [Guardian]

Still, 86 percent of college graduates agreed that attending college had proven to be a good personal investment, it said. [Washington Post]

30 thoughts on “Proved vs. proven”

  1. Lately, I have noticed journalists (or perhaps their editors!) referring to “proved reserves” of oil or natural gas.  This is patently incorrect by any measure, it is a “proven” reserve since proven is being used as an adjective.

    • Jack, journalists, and both TV and radio personalities use the wrong word when they use words like More/less vs fewer, number/amount, and that is not correct. You would say Amount of Sand vs. Number of Grains of Sand. You would say Number of Rooms vs. Amount of space in a house. Number of Jobs, Number of People, NOT Amount of Jobs, etc. They mispronounce so many words. They never use an “O” at the beginning of a word, they always use “U” as in Official – they all say Ufficial. They say “Uliptical” instead of Eliptical. They use the letter ‘a’ in front of a vowel, where it should be ‘an’…. etc. And one of these people used to be a high school English teacher. My Italian teacher also teaches English as a Second Language, and she said it is so hard because students today do not know proper grammar, which you MUST have in order to learn a new language.

    • “Proved reserves” is actually, sadly, industry terminology. It’s not the journalists fault. They’re just repeating the same language that the US Energy Information Administration (US EIA). I research the natural gas industry and this drives me crazy. It’s like nails on a chalk board every time I hear it.

      • Then it’s up to you, Adrian, to push back the frontiers of illiteracy. Don’t repeat their dufusnous and do steadfastly argue against their illiterations — if I may coin a term — even if it’s 5000 to 1.

      • i’d bet my last nickel the industry was told by p.r. strategists that using, “proved” would be more effective when they lie to the public about what they claim is proven.

        • For the industry it is an accounting term. On industry spreadsheets and thus balance sheets the reserves (as opposed to the mineral property real estate they are under) cannot under accounting/auditing rules be treated as an asset until they are quantified and (verb) “proved” (via a highly technical set of rules). When such happens they are moved (via a debit to one account and a credit to another) from “unproved” to “proved”. So, it is a carryover from the accounting language, not a sinister plot.

  2. Thanks.
    Now is this correct?
    “A study has proved that bananas are often yellow.”

    Intuitively it seems to me that “A study has proven that bananas are often yellow.” would be more correct, but I guess my intuition is wrong?

    Confirm please :)

    • I think the main problem is laziness. People just don’t learn how to conjugate a verb, or diagram a sentence. We learned the verbs by 5th grade, and sentence conjugation by 7th grade. We also mastered addition in first grade, subtraction in second grade, multiplication in 3rd grade, and long division by 4th grade. We learned cursive handwriting in 3rd grade. Great Public School Education – Sapulpa Oklahoma 1950s-60s.

      • Well, Russian schools still teach all those arithmetic operations in the first two grades, 4th grade is when you study powers and 6th grade is when you study derivatives. By your logic, it means Russian schools are even greater) (which is not the case however, because most school students DO NOT manage to master the advanced level of maths and physics they are taught at school as mandatory subjects).

    • “A study has proved that bananas are often yellow” is correct. But as the entry states, “correct” is up to interpretation. I would never use proven in that instance – but I live in the UK. But then again, the Guardian apparently will. Though the Guardian is affectionately known as the Grauniad due to its frequent errors :)

      Americans tend to use proven much more liberally than British people, so it may just be cultural. I wouldn’t agree with Barbara that this would be a case of laziness, as the use of proved in this instance is correct. But language changes and there’s no reason to be pedantic – especially if we can all communicate!

      • Americans also use ‘gotten’ where we in the UK would use ‘got’, and would probably only ever use the former in the phrase ‘ill-gotten gains’ – again as an adjective rather than a past participle.

        • But then again there are other “differences” between UK and America when it comes to English language.Take the word “Behaviour” or Behavior”, both correct or incorrect depending on where you live :)

  3. I have no quarrel with what Grammarist says here, and notice that I instinctively follow the proven for adjective / proved for verb past / proven for verb perfect pattern that seems to be peculiarly American. But I note that since so many past tense verbs can be effortlessly drafted into service as adjectives (wrecked car / surprised face / fried rice), you can get through life very idiomatically by just using proved for everything (I proved he was wrong / proved oil reserves / we have proved those oil reserves, all sound at least okay). There are probably people who have never used proven and don’t miss it.

    • There may well be people who’ve never used “proven,” Bill, but they ain’t American.

      I’m with Daniel below. “Proven” is what I was taught as a youngster in the Sixties and Seventies in the Midwest. I’ve noticed that there’s a recent English snobbery movement in which “proven” is looked down upon for any use. I have no patience for snobs. I myself am something of an English-nazi, but I’m never a snob.

      I prefer the softer “-en” ending for two reasons. The first is that it’s softer, the second is that it harkens back to the old Germanic endings that English started with. In this day and age, with so many people trying to Latinize the sound of English by lengthening and lowering vowel sounds, I’m a staunch promoter of The Great Vowel Shift and more German-sounding endings.

      Slightly off topic . . . my pet peeve is when someone uses “bring” when they should use “take.” Makes me wanna CHOKE somebody.


      • I was just making a point that “proved” will in fact work okay in a lot of places where you and I (and I do mean you and I) say “proven.” I believe we are actually in agreement. We say, “I have proven it,” not “I have proved it.” But neither of us says, “I proven it.” Nobody does.

        The Brit snobbery thing I hate — and I suspect you feel the same — is the pretense that there is no such word as “gotten.” Lots of American grammarians insist that we follow the British shift away from the old word here, even though it is universal in American use. Baffling.+

        • It has a lot to do with whether are you using past form or past participial form of the word,
          examples would be the sentences:
          “He got the book.” or “He had gotten the book earlier today.” Past participles are a pain in the backside :P
          Sorry, I have a 5th grader who is learning all this….stuff :P

          • No, that’s what I’m saying. In British English, even the past participle is “got.” “He had got the book earlier today.” There is no “gotten.” But “gotten” is definitely the American past participle — in practice, even though some authorities insist we should follow the British shift away from it.

          • Wow! Didn’t realize the difference in British was like that. I know there are plenty of differences, but got and gotten, hadn’t gotten that far ;)
            Terribly sorry, couldn’t resist :D

          • “Gotten” was once correct and fell out of use in Britain – much like the word “fall” for “autumn” and the like (“soccer” also comes to mind).

      • Do you also prefer to keep the Saxonised versions of Latin words, such as remembereth? What about the relentless regularisation of English; replacing learnt with learned or burnt with burned? To me learned means someone who is well read not the past tense of the verb to learn. Even nouns, since when was the plural of roof, roofs? When I learnt it, the plural was rooves and I’m only 30!

  4. Correct isn’t the best way to look at the situation, but rather a continuum of acceptable variations capable of communicating the desired idea. Both are formally viable, though I must say that, as a native speaker from California, I use proven as the past participle. I was brought here by the use of proved as the PP, as it bothered my sense of the word. Apparently I’m in the more recent group preferring proven over proved, though I wouldn’t say a minority.

  5. Just wondering whether the reference to Chaucer is about Geoffrey, the author of the Canterbury Tales. Because said Chaucer died in 1400, so I am quite sure no 15th-century works of his hand exist.

  6. i was just watching the old Colombo Episode “Mind Over Mayhem”
    the suspect said “proved” instead of “proven” and it sounded highly irregular.
    I thought it was wrong.
    Then i thought i was wrong


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