Common Errors in Spoken English: Snuck or Sneaked?

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.

Personal experience

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

Infinitive:

to + base

Past Simple Past

Participle:

have / has

Present Simple:

I, we, you, they / he, she, it

Present Participle:

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
to wreak

(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 sneak snuck

(doesn’t fit)

snoke!

(to be consistent with irregular form)

snuck

(doesn’t fit)

snoken!

(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.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com

Pro-Sneaked (51 seconds)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dICo1MbeFeE

Pro-Sneaked and Pro-Snuck (21 seconds)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBplQmbqNmg


2 comments

    • Robert Bowman on May 19, 2015 at 11:05
    • Reply

    woken or awakend

    1. woken or awakened?

      The noise downstairs had woken him up.
      He was awakened by the noise downstairs.

      woken: a past participle of the verb wake

      awakened: past tense and past participle of the verb awaken

      Useful links:

      http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/notorious/wake.htm
      http://www.grammar.com/awake-awaken-wake-waken/
      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/wake

      Note: At the last link, above, the Free Dictionary has the following useful usage note, which I have reformatted, here, to make it easier to read:

      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 verb—hence 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.

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