Has "snuck" become standard English?

On CBS Radio news this morning, a reported used the word “snuck” as the past tense of “sneak.” It did not appear that she was trying to use it humorously.

Is this now standard?

A descriptivist is someone who thinks that if enough people make the same mistake, it’s not a mistake anymore.

Taken from the entry at www.dictionary.com

Oddly, I use ‘sneaked’ as the simple past and ‘has snuck’ as the past participle in both written and spoken English.

Yeah, this seems to happen to a bunch of words, and it seems to be the past tense that is most commonly changed, especially in the United States. Growing up in Australia, where usage is very similar to the UK, i was always taught that the past tense of “shine” is “shone.”

e.g., He shone his flashlight* into the darkened room.

But since moving to the US, i’ve heard “shined” much more frequently than “shone” in this context. Also, i’ve always used “spat” as the past tense for “spit.”

e.g., He spat on the sidewalk.

But in the US, it seems very common for people to use “spit” as both the present and past tense.

  • I would be more likely to use “torch,” another product of my background.

I have always said “snuck”; “sneaked” actually sounds wrong to me, although I know it’s correct and I hear people use it. Here in California, I hear both forms: “shone” and “shined,” “spat” and “spit,” and “dove” and “dived.” I use the former in all cases. It’s my understanding that “shone” and “spat” are historically correct whereas “snuck” and “dove” are Americanisms.

Yeah, I was taught (in American schools) that “shined” is the transitive past tense and “shone” is intransitive:

  • He shined his flashlight into the darkened room.

  • The lamp shone in the darkened room.

I still use “sneaked” as both past tense and past participle in formal contexts (although I’m not sure I ever do talk about “sneaking” in formal contexts, come to think of it), but I’m not gonna mount the barricades if everybody decides we’re now using “snuck” instead.

I’m a bit of an annoyingly pedant on such matters, sometimes, but I’ll concede the field to snuck; it’s become well-enough established that I wouldn’t correct it if I came across it in a manuscript I was editing.

Now, “woken”–that makes me physically shudder.

Taking a verb that has an irregular past tense, like shine, and society making into a regular verb is pretty normal, so it’s not surprising that shined is now common.

Sneak, on the other hand, was traditionally regular: “sneaked” would be correct. But the irregular past tense has been back-formed. That is more unusual.

I still used “dived” because somewhere along the line I got it stuck in my head that there is no such word as “dove” (except for the name of the bird).

I would say “snuck”, but it feels very informal.

If I hear someone use the faux-word “snuck” I question their education.

Which is a step up for me, as I used to question their parentage.

Seriously, I don’t understand where “snuck” even came from. I can’t think of another verb ending in “-eak” that anyone conjugates “-uck.” “Snuck” just sounds stupid and I literally (and I mean literally literally, not figuratively literally) cringe when I hear someone on TV who ought to know better use it.

Otto, the form “sneak - snuck” isn’t that different from other typical Germanic “strong verb” irregular conjugations such as “speak - spoke” or “take - took”. As a WAG I would suggest that perhaps it belongs among the Class 6 verbs with modified e-grade ablaut. Aren’t you glad you asked? :wink:

(Real linguists, please step in and fix my WAG. Thanks!)

It’s called analogical extension, if you want to know the fancy term for it.

As far as the OP goes, I don’t think there is a line that’s crossed where something goes from nonstandard to standard. A form just gradually gets more and more accepted until one day you stop noticing it.

And I don’t want to hijack, but I’m a bit concerned by your dig at descriptivists in the OP. What point did that serve?


I don’t care what any damn German does. We kicked their asses twice last century and we’ll do it again next time they get uppity. In America we speak English.


Instead of “snuck”, we should use “snook” (rhymes with rook). It’s a much cooler word in every way.

All I can say is that in that case you’re not annoyingly enough a pedant. :smiley:

I’m a professional editor, and no way would it get by me.

Which is a Germanic language, and follows many of the same linguistic patterns that are seen in other Germanic languages, including irregular “strong verb” conjugations like “shake - shook”, “sneak - snuck”. Don’t shake your cane and harrumph at me like that, Gramps, you’ll send your blood pressure up. :wink:

Interesting choice of user name, given that. :wink:

Good lord, and here I thought that “sneaked” was the improper form! I plan to continue using “snuck”, however, just because I think “sneaked” sounds a little too stuffy.

I’m only 23 and don’t use the past tense of that word very often, so I think I can get away with it. :slight_smile:

My goodness, there are verbs who have different forms when used transitively and intransitively? Is there a list? I wish to learn these verbs!

(I love silly things like that.)

OK, now I have to ask the pedant–isn’t that redundant? :wink:

Initial uses of “snuck” were considered non-standard or jocular. I anticipated that some descriptivists would say that it’s standard usage now because its use is so widespread. The footnote was intended to be wryly humorous, because it’s essentially true.

I am concerned by your concern, since my “dig” was really intended to be just a good-natured ribbing.