Sneaked vs. Snuck: Which Is Correct?

Updated: Mar. 25, 2022

What's the one thing that's more sneaky than a teenager, loophole, and a surprise fine combined? The difference between sneaked and snuck!

You can get away with nearly anything if you’re sneaky enough. Think back to your teenage years, or slinking in past your light-sleeping roommate in college or, if you’re really a full-blown rebel, sneaking some snacks in under your sweater at the movie theater. Whatever your level of wild, you’ve likely snuck around, by, through, past, or something a few times in your day.

Speaking of sneaky, take a moment to think about retelling your slyest moments. Are you thinking about the past tense of sneak as snuck, like you’d expect, or sneaked, as you’d also expect? Is one form wrong and the other just sneakily creeping into your self-conscious? Take a wild guess and we’ll tell you if you need to take your thinking just one step further (or is it farther?)

The history of sneaking

If you said both, maybe with a slightly confused facial expression, you’d be correct. According to Merriam-Webster, the word sneak originally came to us from the Old English snīcan and Old Norse snīkja, meaning to sneak along or move undetected. With the first known usage in the late 16th century, the word sneak has been sneaking up into common vernacular ever since, finding footing for the noun and adjectival form later in the 17th and 19th century respectively. If you love etymology, check out the surprising origins of these most popular slang words.

So which is correct?

So, in the case of the past tense (past, not passed) you also have to look way back to find out what’s happening. The word sneaked was the original past tense form of the word. It was popular up until the 19th century when the past tense form (and past participle) snuck snuck in with dialectal, “improper” use.

Since then, snuck has become the standard form and has gained popularity in the United States. Snuck is widely accepted in academic, journalistic, and casual contexts, while sneaked is used less frequently and is more jarring to an American-English ear. In much of Great Britain and Australia, however, sneaked is preferred. Though both are technically correct, it feels like another pair of words that everyone confuses.

Examples of sneaked and snuck in context

  • “Mary, is that a baby tiger? You snuck that past the guard in your tote bag?”
  • She sneaked past the butler and down the stairs in the foyer.
  • “Not to scare you, but I snuck a peek at your final grade and you might want to reconsider med school.”
  • Brad thinks he’s getting the Royce, but he doesn’t know I sneaked into grandma’s good graces at the last minute.

Next, check out these words that people say aren’t real worlds that actually are!