Sneaked vs. snuck

Sneaked is the traditional past tense and past participle of sneak. Snuck is new, originating in the U.S. in the early 20th century, but it has become remarkably common across all main English varieties. People seem to like it, and it appears in even the most editorially scrupulous publications, so at this stage there is no basis for saying snuck is incorrect. It’s just new. English has many irregular verb forms, and adding one more won’t cause harm. 

In American news publications, sneaked is marginally more common than snuck, and in Canada snuck actually appears twice as often as sneaked. The two words are neck and neck in Australian and New Zealand publications, and in British publications sneaked is about twice as common as snuck. These figures are based on unscientific research, but it’s safe to say British writers shun snuck to a greater degree than the rest of us.

When in doubt, it’s usually better to go with the older form—sneaked, in this case—but there’s nothing wrong with using snuck. Just watch out for English traditionalists with peeves.

Google’s ngrams, which graph word usage across a large number of English-language published texts, aren’t precise, but they nicely render usage trends in visible form. This first one shows the growth of snuck in American English from 1908 to 2008:

It should be noted, though, that the frequency of snuck on the web is much greater than in books.


And this one shows sneaked‘s and snuck‘s use in British texts from the same period:



Holmes snuck into the restaurant’s kitchen to make her own baguettes with bakers. [Los Angeles Times]

Chekhov began writing for the stage while he was still at school, inspired by the farces that he snuck into at the local playhouse. [Irish Times]

You felt as though you’d snuck into someone’s home and flipped open his journal. [Globe and Mail]

Perhaps it even snuck up on Swan. [Sydney Morning Herald]


Check Your Text


  1. To my ear, “sneaked” sounds more like the imperfect past, and “snuck” more like a preterite or completed past action. The “k” gives it the same kind of finality we find in “t” ending words like “dreamt” vs dreamed. With the -ed ending, the sneaking or the dreaming might still be going on.

  2. I will have no truck with “snuck”.
    I assume it was originally intended to be amusing but in fact it sounds childish or uneducated. I loathe it.

  3. Shin0bi272 says:

    Sneaked sounds like something you’d hear from a 3 year old. I would think that sneak would conjugate much like the word drink. It just doesnt sound right to hear someone say sneaked. Like when you hear someone say mooses or sheeps.

    • Jack D. Ripper says:

      ‘Sneaked’ sounds much better to my ear. Of course, my father was an editor.
      ‘Snuck’ sounds like an onomatopoeia for someone sucking snot back up his nose.

  4. I think this all comes down to what was taught to us in elementary school. Whichever one we heard more often is the one that sounds the most correct to us. Personally, I use snuck more often, but have no problem with “sneaked”.

    Given that we have so many nonstandard past tense words like “drove” (instead of drived), and “dug” (instead of digged), there’s no real logical argument against “snuck” based on objective clarity (unlike the case with the oxford comma). It’s not better or worse, it’s just English evolving.

  5. I’m an American who cringes whenever I hear or read ‘snuck’, but acknowledge that ‘snuck’ has sneaked its way into dictionaries.

  6. I am a writer who resides in California USA. Sneaked is the proper way to me. It was what i was taught in school. Though conjugation is the challenge in any language I believe english has to be the most confusing for someone starting to learn it. drink drank drunk… stink stank stuck. lol who is to say what is proper or improper anymore. It seems to be the thing in america these days making up vocabulary and getting it into english dictionaries. But I will stick with the original past tense, past participle of sneak as sneaked! it sounds more proper, or should I say “Properer”?? lol

  7. scareygary says:

    Shouldn’t one give one’s age when commenting on what sounds appropriate? I’ll admit to being a 66 year old geezer with a degree in English and an MFA in Theatre. “Snuck” still bothers my sensibilities a good deal, but so does “their” as a singular pronoun and “transition” as a verb! :) Change comes hard for me, it seems. I mean, shoot, when I was young, tattoos were on sailors, nose rings and piercings were only in National Geographic and all the earrings at home were Momma’s!

  8. keeptalking52 says:

    English is a grammatical free-for-all.
    I am a Canadian now living in the States who actually learned “snuck” in school, but use both as an adult. I lean towards “snuck” when I’m speaking and prefer “sneaked” when I’m writing. Strangely, I also see “snuck” as a transitive verb and “sneaked” as intransitive:

    “She snuck arsenic into his tea,” vs. “He sneaked out of the dungeon.”

    I wonder if this personal preference might be related to the distinction between “hung” vs. “hanged”.

    • I definitely feel that “sneaked” implies an action on tiptoe. I searched for the difference between the two words after reading about some legislation being “sneaked” through parliament, which sounded awkward in my head.

  9. Happy Pilchard says:

    Interesting to read, but I fear “but it’s safe to say British writers shun snuck to a greater degree than the rest of us.” is not strong enough. I’d never heard “snuck” until about 1990 and even now, you don’t hear it from people older than 20.

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