- Sneak is a verb that means to move with stealth in order to avoid detection.
- Sneaked is the past tense of sneak when the verb is treated like a regular verb.
- Snuck is the past tense of sneak when the verb is treated like an irregular verb.
- Some people frown upon snuck, so if you’re in doubt about which form to use, sneaked is always the safer option.
Does the English language really need another irregular verb? The ones we have already seem more than capable of causing trouble for English speakers, especially those who speak it as a second language. The list of irregular verbs we need to learn by heart should be getting smaller, not bigger. And it sort of is—the verbs in the English language have been moving, throughout history, toward simpler forms. But some verbs are moving the other way. Dive is one of them. Sneak is another.
You know what sneak means, right? To move around while avoiding being seen or heard. You need to be quiet if you’re sneaking. Staying low and having a good sense of timing might also be crucial to the success of a sneaky endeavor. And there are many reasons to sneak, some terrible (deception, theft, murder), some wonderful (surprise birthday parties), and some extremely important (going out to see a special someone when you should be upstairs studying).
The Past Tense of Sneak Is…
Video chat has cut down on the need for sneaking out after dinner. So what is the past tense form you should use when you talk about kids who used to sneak out? It’s sneaked, because “sneak” is a regular verb. That means we form the past tense by adding the regular old -ed suffix to it.
But some speakers have begun to treat “sneak” as an irregular verb. In that case, its past tense is created by adding and removing some of its letters to produce snuck. So you could have “snuck into class” after being late just as easy as you could have “sneaked in.” Or, you could have “sneaked a peek” of a pre-show sound-check of your favorite band, but you also could have “snuck a peek” (some might say that you sneaked or snuck a peak or a pique, but they are wrong).
As you can imagine, this situation can be a little confusing. It surely doesn’t help that there are people out there who are very vocal in their disagreement with the very existence of snuck. If words could have self-confidence issues, snuck would be in a fetal position, crying its eyes out. After all, it’s one thing for someone to assert that you’re incorrect, but to say that you shouldn’t exist at all—that’s much worse.
Is Snuck a Real Word?
No one can argue that snuck is not a real word. It has everything that’s needed for a word to be a word—it is a phonetic structure, so you can actually say it. It is paired with a meaning, so when you say it, you’re saying something that makes sense. So the real question isn’t whether the word snuck is a real word or not. The question is whether or not you should use it.
Technically, there’s no authority that can abolish snuck from your vocabulary. And the word is generally accepted everywhere apart from the UK, which has remained on the fence. But if you look it up in dictionaries, you will notice that it’s marked as a colloquialism, a non-standard or informal word, more often than not.
What to do, then? Sometimes, you’ll be required to use one of them and not the other—usually it will be the regular one. This will happen when you have to follow a style guide. In formal writing, sneaked might be the term you should use. But in everyday use, there’s no reason not to use either one of them.