Sneaking up on “Snuck”

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks:

Could you tell me which is more appropriate or how it is used: snuck vs sneeked  – He snuck across the border.

The word snuck as the simple past of sneak is regarded with disdain by many speakers and writers.

The correct principal parts, they will argue, are:
sneak/sneaked/(have) sneaked:

Let’s watch him sneak out of the dorm.
He sneaked out last night as well.
He has sneaked out every night this week.

In other English-speaking parts of the world, the past form snuck, if acknowledged at all, is usually labeled “jocular.”

Personally, I like snuck. To my ear “sneaked” does not sound right. Somehow snuck seems sneakier than sneaked. For me the principal parts are sneak/snuck/(have) snuck.

Admittedly snuck is not a word for formal writing. If I were reaching for the same sense in a context that did not permit of sneak/snuck, I’d resort to creep/crept. (No, not creep/creeped. )

To get an idea of just how acceptable snuck is in American usage, I went to two newspapers I admire: the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

New York Times

…it’s not going to work. The financial industry is not going to get away with a covert bailout, snuck past voters with obscure wording. –Paul Krugman, March 17, 2008

The Rangers nearly snuck out of here with a victory, but Bure again knotted things up… –Jason Diamos, December 10, 1995

Mr. Wilkins, in a plaid shirt and handcuffs, snuck occasional looks at the photographs before him. –Joe Sexton, February 9, 1995

Chicago Tribune

Christine Rokita, a parishioner at Brandt’s church, couldn’t agree more. Her son Matthew, 17, a junior at St. Rita Catholic High School, snuck out to the parade this year against his mother’s wishes. –Stacy St. Clair and Andrew L. Wang, March 26, 2009

Wade then somehow snuck free for that reverse layup—and also somehow missed it. –K.C. Johnson, March 10, 2009

We sneaked Demasi out the back door. –John Kass, February 28, 2009

In this unscientific sampling of American journalists, the snucks clearly have it!

“How ‘Shrunk’ Snuck In

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15 Responses to “Sneaking up on “Snuck””

  • William R. Moore

    When I was in college ( 1960’s ), “snuck” was not in the dictionary in any form. I realize that English is a changing language, but “snuck” just sounds horribly wrong. Another example of change is the replacement of “afraid” with the word “scared”. eg., “I was scared of the dragon”, instead of, “I was afraid of the dragon”, or, “I was scared by the dragon”. As for “lay” & “lie”, The book, “Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lay”, is a good read.

  • Ed Paisley

    Snuck sound better to me. I agree completely with the author. The speaker does not sound like an idiot only colloquial. I agree with the comment in the response about afraid and scared, or the even more hideous “ascared”!! It just sounds wrong and uneducated. The error that is driving me crazy is the misuse of “bring” when they mean “take”. I have heard it in three different commercials today alone.

  • Ed Paisley

    Speaking of sounding uneducated or stupid, I mis-typed the first sentence and put sound instead of sounds. Snuck sounds better to me.

  • Rosemary Holdredge

    I am completely appalled by the use of “snuck.” It is substandard English, but it has been misused so much that now people think it’s OK. “Snuck” originated with Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, so if you want to sound like Huck, go right ahead and say “snuck.”

    IMHO, “snuck” ranks right up there with “between you and I” as the most egregious English error. “Between you and I” or “spoke to Jim and I” were foisted on us by English teachers, who also told us to put commas and periods outside quotation marks, instead of inside, where they belong. Note that the previous two comments have commas and periods on the outside.

  • thatguy

    If you think for one second that “snuck” is the first of commonly accepted colloquialisms to be confused for formal english over the course of centuries of a constantly growing and changing language, then you are sorely mistaken. Yes, “between you and I” is as incorrect as the sun is hot, but what we are talking about here isn’t a matter of grammar (something which also changes over time, although much more slowly), but a matter of changing spelling and conjugation. All that is happening is that a verb is becoming irregular when it was once regular.

    This idea that language does not and should not change would still have us in the era of Middle English. I’d much sooner spend my time focusing on people who can neither spell sneaked nor snuck than worrying about the evolution of a word. Language exists to serve its users, not the other way around.

    And to be honest, sneaked has never sounded right to me. For formal writing, I will use it, but I do not like doing so. I’ll wait patiently until prissy, uptight linguists worried about the least threatening changes to the written and spoken word start focusing on some other trivial change so I can use snuck with an abnormal level of joy in formal writing, because that is what will happen as language changes over time.

    It’s one thing to wish to preserve language; it’s another to take up arms because a harmless change rubs you the wrong way a lot more than it should.

  • J. Solomon

    “Snuck” sounds to me like a word to describe fornicating snakes, and always will. I immediately, unconsciously, consider the user to be poorly educated and ill-mannered.

  • M Bouchard

    Being from Canada we are exposed to both american and british, umm everything. However I would say for us it depends on the use of the word. I use both when talking.
    I sneaked our last night.
    I snuck up on them last night.
    So for myself it does depend. Some people say elfs instead of elves dwarfs instead of dwarves, but I have never heard knifes instead of knives. the ve sounds better and less like you are slurping back spit. But I won’t correct someone if the use elfs. I HAVE seen it in print.

  • Jeff Harris

    To me me sneaked sounds like what must be done to your feet before a basketball game.

    Its time to go to school boys…is everyone sneaked.

    But I can see how snuck would rub people the wrong way. But to consider someone ill mannered or uneducated is a bit much. Especially if they don’t understand the definition of words like unconsciously and subconsciously themselves.

    But they way if you meant subconsciously you not be aware of your feelings enough to post anything about it.

    English is a sneaky language for sure.

  • Will Reimann

    I am quite happy to accept an evolving English language in places of the world in which it is subject to foreign cultures, so that it may grow an enrich itself, but to say a bastardisation of the English language is right and proper merely because of laziness and popularisation of lowering standards in all aspects of life is abhorrent.

  • Andrew

    I believe that colloquialisms and vernacular phrases do have a place in formal dialogue. To the individual who feels the use of such jocular vocabulary denotes a “poorly educated and ill-mannered” individual, I think you need to reexamine your own definition of manners.

  • Robin

    For creative writing, I feel like both “snuck” and “sneaked” have appropriate times they can be used. For some reason, I find that “snuck” sounds better when intransitive (“he snuck inside”) as opposed to “sneaked” when transitive (“he sneaked some files in”). Thoughts?

  • Paul

    I am age 63. I learned “sneaked” as a child and when I hear “snuck”, it just grates on my ears. However, I realize it is a lost cause. I just now watched a major network news anchor use the word “snuck”. Another irritant for me is the frequent use of “drug” as the past tense of “drag” instead of “dragged”.

  • Caroline

    Like the previous writer, I learnt to say “sneaked”, and “snuck” sounds horrible – yet another word that has crept over from America.

    In any case, we say “peaked” (e.g. “He peaked at the right time”) and “the door creaked”, not puck and cruck.

    It’s better to be consistent.

  • Rosemary Holdredge

    I agree with those who think someone who says “snuck” is poorly educated and ill-mannered. And to back that up, Google just highlighted that word for me so I could correct it. It’s evidently not in the Google dictionary. Those of you who like “snuck” (another squiggly red line) have just heard it too often from other uneducated people.

  • Raymond W. Wheeler

    Did I really read someone using the word “learnt”?

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