That's What They Say
8:59 am
Sun July 1, 2012

"Snuck" and "sneaked" are all right with me

This week on That’s What They Say, we explore why so many of us use snuck instead of sneaked.

“What’s happening here is that speakers are creating an irregular verb. Sneak used to be regular, made the past tense with –ed and suddenly we’ve decided to make it irregular,” said Anne Curzan, a professor of English specializing in linguistics at the University of Michigan.

She said it happens with other verbs as well. “So the verb dig, the past tense used to be digged but we created dug. And dive, past tense used to be dived and now you hear dove as well as dived."

Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller asked, “Is this bothering the language powers that be?”

“Sometimes, with language change, you will see what are often called language mavens pick up on it and tell us not to do that," Curzan explained. “With snuck, this one seems to be taking off. It doesn’t appear to be particularly stigmatized. So I would guess that it will replace sneaked and probably fairly rapidly.”

Miller asked, “Why is this one okay and other ones aren’t?”

“This is one of the mysteries of language prescriptions, is that there are things happening in the language, variation and change that get picked up on and people say this one’s right and this one’s wrong, and then there are times when we have two variance like sneaked and snuck, and they both get to sit out there and be okay in the same way that proved and proven are both sitting out there as past participles of prove both of them seem to be standard,” Curzan said.

The audio posted earlier was not the correct version. The correct version is now posted.