How to Use Stank vs. Stunk Correctly

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

The verb stink is traditionally inflected stank in the past tense and stunk as a past participle. For example, one might write, I don’t stink today, but I stank yesterday and have stunk for many years. 

Everyone knows what it means to stink, but conjugating it, or applying a different tense, can be confusing. Regular verbs are easy to conjugate, but irregular verbs get tricky, and since stink is an irregular verb, you might be unsure whether stank or stunk is correct.

Both are correct, but they are different past tense conjugations, and they belong in other contexts. 

Let’s ‌look at how we can use them both correctly. 

When to Use Stank

Stank is the simple past tense form of the verb to stink, so it acts as a verb to explain something that smelled bad or emitted an unpleasant smell. Since an unfavorable experience or event can also stink metaphorically, you can use stank to help explain your reflections on those occurrences. 

Examples of How to Use Stank in a Sentence

  • My children stank horribly after returning from their fishing trip.
  • The swamp had areas that stank of rotting organic matter.
  • The container in the refrigerator stank so badly that she had to clean the entire thing out. 

When to Use Stunk

Stunk is the past participle conjugated form of stink. Always use past participles with helping verbs (also called auxiliary verbs) to show an action that occurred within a sequence but is no longer happening in the present time. Helping verbs include words such as have, had, and has.

Examples of How to Use Stunk in a Sentence

  • The cooler had stunk for days after the boys returned from their fishing trip. 
  • My shoes have stunk ever since returning from our walk along the swamp’s edge. 
  • The refrigerator has stunk ever since she threw the container out. 

Using Stank and Stunk Figuratively

Stank and stunk are used to explain the unsavory smell of something, but as mentioned above, they can also be used figuratively. In this manner, they explain a symbol or likeness of something unpleasant. 

For example:

  • The football team stank for many years before finally recruiting some winning players.  
  • Many of the interviews she has sat through have stunk, which is why she has high expectations in a more professional setting.

Tips to Remember the Difference

Stink,stank, stunk. You should take advantage of these words when you want to express a foul smell or let everyone know how bad something is. To remember how to properly use them all, remember these rules:

Stink means to smell bad or unpleasant and can be used literally and figuratively. You can conjugate it in the following ways:

  • I/we stink: first person singular and plural present
  • You stink: second person singular and plural present
  • He/she/it stinks: third person singular present
  • They stink: third person plural present
  • Stank is the simple past tense form
  • Stunk is a past participle and is always used with a helping verb. 

Examples of Both Stank and Stunk in Publications

The whole vehicle stank of chemicals, even going 40 miles an hour. [New York Times]

Another resident said it stank like rotten eggs; yet another said it smelled like sewage. [Washington Post]

“To say I’m having the greatest time of my life, no,’’ Youkilis told WAAF radio on Friday. “I want to play every day and I want to play, and I’m the first one to say my performance this year has stunk.” [Boston Globe]

Let’s Review

Stank and stunk are both used to indicate the past tense of the word stink. Even though stink can be conjugated to explain present, future, and past tense, stank and stunk are acceptable conjugations as well.

Use stank in a simple past form as it requires no helping verbs to explain what was stinky. Use stunk with helping verbs such as has or have to explain what used to be stinky.