What is the past tense of “sneak”? If you’re like me, your initial reaction is “snuck,” right? But I make a lot of these decisions quickly, and based on my inner ear. What sounds right? What sounds familiar? I grew up mostly in America, mostly among native English speakers, and mostly among American English speakers. History was not my best subject, but I know we didn’t invent the language. It’s not called “American,” after all (though I know some that would probably argue for a change there).
I have also spent some time around non-native English speakers and non-American English speakers. In case you haven’t, there are numerous and heated differences of opinon on subjects just such as this one.
There are also differences between written and spoken English (what looks right? what looks familiar?). And formal and casual English, both written (are you writing a text message or a dissertation?) and spoken (are you chatting with a buddy or accepting the Nobel Prize?)
So what is the proper past tense of “sneak”? And is there only one right answer?
I did some looking and, mysteriously, both are correct. Well, depending on who you ask. Originally, it was “sneaked,” with “snuck” viewed as a sort of incorrect colloquialism indicative of ignorance, dialectal, and an entirely American invention by all accounts. But as often happens, “snuck” (if you will permit me) sneaked from flat out wrong, to technically incorrect but tolerable, to what some have referred to as “standard but not proper,” to, now, dominant. At least according to Google (as of the posting of this article: snuck– 4,040,000; sneaked– 2,130,000).
But does that make it right? I don’t know. Doesn’t it kind of? Maybe not now, but eventually? I guess it depends on your definition of “right.” Would more common and not wrong qualify? I think so.
Some will always refer to “snuck” as a common mistake. But some resist change just because. There will always be holdouts. There are probably some that still only have VCRs. Cassette tapes. Refuse to own cell phones. And claim they’ll NEVER join Facebook.
One of my favorite things about language is that nothing is set in stone. It is always changing. It is alive. The way it is now is not necessarily the way it will be then. Wrong can become right can become obsolete (who knows? 100 years from now we could all be saying “snook”).
Sneaked or snuck. Snuck or sneaked. The debate rages on. What do you think?
Next week, “dived.”