He drug the box to the door before he snuck into the room…or he dragged the box to the door before he sneaked into the room?

ENG 2015Post written by Camilla Søballe Horslund based on an article in English Today 

What is the past tense form of the verb to sneak? Some say snuck and others say sneaked. According to dictionaries, sneaked is the more formal form. Likewise the past tense form of the verb to drag varies between the forms drug and dragged, but while snuck is considered acceptable in informal speech, drug is described as non-standard and is generally not accepted by people with high socio-economic status. Despite the apparent similarity with former forms like holp and clomb, snuck and drug are newer than their regular counterparts sneaked and dragged. In fact, sneak and drag were originally regular verbs with the past tense forms sneaked and dragged but have recently developed the irregular past tense forms snuck and drug. Interestingly, this is a development in the reverse direction from the typical trend of irregular (strong) verbs turning regular (weak), as for instance in the cases of holp/helped and clomb/climbed.

This study investigates the historical development of the neologisms snuck and drug in American English as well as their current distribution across both spoken and written registers in British and American English with data from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC).

Snuck and drug are first attested in American English in the 1880s, but while the occurrences of snuck increase over time, reaching a proportion of 48% of the past tense forms of the verb to sneak in present day English, drug remains a minority form over time only taking up a mere 1% of the past tense forms of the verb to drag in present day English, and there is no evidence that the form is becoming common. Both irregular past tense forms are more frequent in American English than in British English; no occurrences of drug are attested in the BNC.  With respect to register, the irregular form of both verbs is most common in the spoken register for both American and British English and least common in the academic and newspaper registers.

Explore the full article ‘How snuck sneaked into English and drug is still dragging behind: A corpus study on the usage of new past tense forms for sneak and drag in British and American English’ here

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