Tinker, Tailor, Sneaked vs. Snuck

These two words have been playing cloak-and-dagger with American writers for some time now. But which one is the good guy?

Both words come from the verb sneak, which means to move in a stealthy way. Sneak is used in the present tense, as in Sneak up on them from behind! The problem arises when switching to past tense when writers and speakers use either sneaked or snuck.

Sneaked follows the verb’s regular construction: sneak > sneaked > (have) sneaked. Because of this, it is the traditional and more common past tense form of sneak, as in He sneaked out the backdoor.

Snuck began as a regional American variant of sneaked during the 1800s. Though long considered nonstandard, its use has spread and become more widely accepted down the decades. Today, some people might say He snuck out the backdoor.

Which past tense version to use largely depends on what you’re writing. In most cases, I’d recommend the traditional sneaked, especially for formal and academic manuscripts. Indeed, The AP Stylebook, Garner’s Modern American, and British stylebooks prefer sneaked. A character or a first-person narrator in a work of fiction, though, might use snuck, if it fits his personality.