Sneaked or snuck?

The past tense of the verb “sneak” seems to be mutating (and I do mean like a germ). I always change “snuck” to “sneaked” because I consider “snuck” nonstandard. I have some support from usage experts. Bryan Garner in “A Dictionary of Modern American Usage” calls “snuck” nonstandard.

But it appears that the usage might be changing. As in this partial sentence from a News & Observer editorial — “North Carolina’s new lottery snuck into being through the state legislature’s back door …” — “snuck” is used quite often as the past tense. The venerable James Kilpatrick says whether you use “sneaked” or “snuck” depends on the tone of your piece. He says “snuck” carries a comic or amateurish tone. “Snuck” still sounds wrong to me in all but the most informal uses, but perhaps in a few more years, it won’t. I will continue to use “sneaked” in copy I edit for the newspaper for the time being. (I will, that is, unless the writer is trying to suggest a Stooges-like tiptoeing on creaky floorboards.)

Follow this link for an examination of “snuck” at The American Heritage book of English Usage online.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.