Sneaked is the past tense of sneak when the verb is treated like a regular verb.
Snuck is the past tense of sneak when the verb is treated like an irregular verb.
Well that clears it right up, doesn’t it?
No, not for me, either.
The problem is, who gets to decide whether sneak is treated like a regular or an irregular verb? Grammarly points to a similar issue involving the verb dive, which can be expressed in past tense as dived or dove. Both are considered acceptable, although in that case, it seems dove has a little more acceptance than snuck.
Dictionary.com points outsnuck was used as early as the late 1800s, and has become the “standard variant past tense and past participle” of sneak.
It does note, however, that particularly among the British, sneaked is still prefered. My co-worker isn’t British, but on this issue, he might as well be.
Perhaps the most mysterious part of the story of snuck is the question of where it came from. No common verb follows the precise pattern of snuck: the past tense of leak is not luck, of streak is not struck, of creak is not cruck, of peek is not puck.
The form just showed up, it says, and the rest of us (mostly) just accepted it. Except for folks like my colleague.
Five years ago, Brian A. Klems, at Writer’s Digest, predicted that in another 10-20 years, most people would never raise an eyebrow to snuck, but recommended in the meantime that you should go with sneaked instead.
It’ll make you sound smarter, he said.
It’ll also keep folks like my co-worker from coming after you when you least expect it, I’d add.
Does ‘snuck’ bother you or do you accept it as the normal past tense of ‘sneak’?
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.