Snuck or Sneaked

snuck, sneaked, chalkboard

You may have heard that snuck as the past tense of sneak is improper English, but does this designation hold water?

Like leaked as the past tense of leak, sneaked was the original past tense and past participle for sneak, which means “to move in a stealthy or furtive manner.” Used as early as the late 1800s, snuck has become the standard variant past tense and past participle of the verb sneak. Though some grammarians, particularly in Britain, still prefer sneaked, snuck has achieved widespread acceptance and usage in edited writing, including fiction and journalism.

How did this strange form sneak into standard English? Writing in 1995 in the New York Times, language maven William Safire explores how colloquial usage slowly standardizes by examining how shrunk overtook shrank as the preferred past tense of the verb shrink. He pinpoints the 1989 film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as pushing the use of shrank into obscurity in favor of the past participle shrunk for the simple past tense. He also discusses–and uses–snuck as the past tense form of sneak, calling it a “perfect example of a usage that has crept (informally creeped) up on us.”

Which form do you prefer?

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