Snuck or Sneaked?
by Owen Fourie
Which one of these two sentences is correct?
- He snuck quietly out of the house after midnight.
- He sneaked quietly out of the house after midnight.
I received a request to write about the snuck-versus-sneaked problem.
There is a lot that has been written about this issue on the Internet, and there are videos to see too on You Tube. Two links to these very short items will be found at the end of this article after the copyright statement.
My first experience with snuck was in the early 1990s when I moved to the USA. I heard a student using this word, and it really sounded peculiar to my English ears. I have heard it used many times since then.
What really troubled me was that when students were corrected on this matter and instructed to use sneaked, they argued and “corrected” the teacher!
When I heard American sports commentators using snuck, I knew I was resisting something that was ingrained in the culture.
Origin and common usage of snuck
The word snuck actually originated in America in the 19th Century, so it has been in use for a long time.
Common usage trains the ear. Eventually, the correct word is the one that sounds odd.
As time passes and older generations pass away, what was wrong in one generation might become the standard for a future generation.
The fact that it is in some dictionaries does not make it correct because dictionaries do list nonstandard words, colloquialisms, and slang that should not occur in formal use.
Different forms of the verb: a tabulation
To look a little more closely at this problem, I made the following table of the different forms of regular and irregular verbs. Note my comments below the tabulation.
By the way, some of the pronouns listed with the subheading “Present Simple” might not be appropriate for use in some instances:
- You are leaking.
- She is creaking.
To read this correctly, here are some examples:
- I sneaked. (past simple);
- I have sneaked. (past participle);
- He has sneaked. (past participle);
- We sneak. (present simple);
- She sneaks. (present simple);
- I am sneaking. (present participle);
- They are sneaking. (present participle);
- It is sneaking. (present participle)
Different Forms of the Verb
to + base
have / has
I, we, you, they / he, she, it
am, are / is
|Regular||to + sneak||sneaked||sneaked||sneak / sneaks||sneaking|
|to creak||creaked||creaked||creak / creaks||creaking|
|to leak||leaked||leaked||leak / leaks||leaking|
|to squeak||squeaked||squeaked||squeak / squeaks||squeaking|
(not to be confused with wreck)
|wreaked||wreaked||wreak / wreaks||wreaking|
|Irregular||to + break||broke||broken||break / breaks||breaking|
|to speak||spoke||spoken||speak / speaks||speaking|
(to be consistent with irregular form)
(to be consistent with irregular form)
|sneak / sneaks||sneaking|
In this table, you will see that if you use snuck, you are moving the verb sneak away from its regular form (sneak, sneaked, sneaked) to an irregular form.
For the irregular form to be correct, you would have to say sneak, snoke, snoken!
The problem is that snuck does not even fit into an irregular form. Note this in the table.
At best, the past tense and past participle snuck is a nonstandard regional variant of sneaked.
The fact remains that sneaked is the correct word and the right form to use in formal writing and speaking, and it is the better choice in informal contexts.
As Jennifer Garner said to Conan O’Brien: “Snuck isn’t a word.”
Have you used the word snuck in your formal written assignments? Are there other expressions that have perhaps made you wonder if they are being used correctly or not? Mention them here to get clarification. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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Pro-Sneaked (51 seconds)
Pro-Sneaked and Pro-Snuck (21 seconds)