Suppose we are writing about a thief – specifically, a sneak thief, a burglar who sneaks into houses through open doors or windows. This is today’s cosmic question: Do we write that the fellow “snuck in” or “sneaked in”?

The answer is, as it so often is, “it depends.” It depends upon the tone or texture of the piece, and it depends upon the sound and cadence of the sentence. Semantically, there’s no discernible difference between “sneaked” and “snuck.” Both forms of the past tense have been in use for well over a hundred years. To my ear, “sneaked” sounds sneakier than “snuck.” Something sinister is afoot with “sneaked.” Something amateurish or comic is suggested by “snuck.” It’s your call.

Try your writer’s eye and ear on some other close choices of a past tense. We’ve discussed some of these before, but there’s no rule against a second look.

Do you remember Ramona of the 1920s? She awoke to find her lover gone. The composer might also have written that the dear girl awaked to find her lover gone. Or she awakened. Is your sentence improved by a long “o” or a long “a”? Do you want the glottal stop of “awoke”? Or the softer, slower ending of “awakened”? How do the alternatives read aloud?

Here are some other past tenses to test your ear and your sense of the thing:

Clinged or clung? The Associated Press provided a photo in April of actor Kelsey Grammar, who “clinged to his role as Frasier Crane.” Lexicographically speaking, there appears to be no such verb as “clinged,” but why not? The past tense of “ring” is not only “rung,” but also “ringed.” An actor who lost his script “winged” his lines. I move the admission of “clinged.” Is there a second?

Dwelled or dwelt? The dictionary makers of Merriam-Webster note that “dwelled” is still used, but it has been losing ground over the centuries. Question: What about using “lived” instead? It has the virtue of familiarity. Does your ear and eye respond to, “Lincoln lived in Springfield” or “Lincoln dwelled/dwelt in Springfield?” I think the gentleman lived there. But who was it who “dwelled” in marble halls?

Hanged or hung? Here the choice is governed by established usage. Pictures are hung, and juries are hung, but traitors are hanged.

Kneeded or knelt? Novelist E.L. Doctorow likes it both ways. In “Ragtime” (1975), he wrote of a boy who “knelt and held out his arms.” Four years later, in “Loon Lake,” a character “kneeled on the straw mat.” Do you want a short “e” or a long “e”? Your call.

Leaped or lept? Same thing. The experts at Merriam-Webster report that in American English, the two forms are used with about equal frequency. Our British friends tend to favor “lept.” To my ear, “leaped” is faster than “lept.” The hungry lion leaped upon her prey. The copy editor lept upon a misspelled word.

Lent or loaned? A century ago, the most learned commentators asserted that “loan” is a noun – that it is never a verb. This tells you something about the learnedness of learned commentators. As a transitive verb, “loaned” has been in use since the 16th century. In most contexts, it has completely displaced “lent,” but there are exceptions. “The judge lent an attentive ear to counsel.” “The music lent an aura of mystery.”

Lighted or lit? Your choice. Long “i” or short “i”? Two syllables or one? What’s the mood? The seductive lady lighted a lamp. The banker lit his cigar.

Our beloved English language is blessed by more than 200 irregular verbs. What a lovely box of jewels! Wear them with loving care.

James Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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