English language Uncategorized

A sneaky question

Q: Your thoughts, please, about the past tense of “sneak.” I tend to use “snuck.” I also hear “sneaked,” but it sounds wrong to my ear. (I must admit that seeing “snuck” spelled doesn’t seem so right either, but it sounds fine.)

A: In formal written English, the traditionally accepted past tense (and past participle) of “sneak” is “sneaked.”

“Snuck” cropped up in the 19th century as a nonstandard variant, first recorded in print in a New Orleans weekly in 1887.

Since then, “snuck” has become so common in the US that American dictionaries now accept it without comment (that is, without calling it slang or nonstandard or dialectical or whatever).

Usage experts, who are stricter than lexicographers, list it as nonstandard but generally say it’s now acceptable in informal speech and writing.

“Snuck” is more common in the US and Canada, but it is on the rise in British and Australian English. Currently it appears about as often as “sneaked” in North America, but “snuck” may eventually replace it.

“Snuck,” in the opinion of Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage, “stands a good chance to become the dominant form.”

I don’t use “snuck” myself (simply because I’m in the habit of saying “sneaked”), but I have nothing against it.

The “sneak/snuck” pattern (though relatively new) has a familiar Anglo-Saxon ring, along the lines of “drive/drove,” “stick/stuck,” “weave/wove,” “speak/spoke,” and similar verbs from Old English.

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