Sank or Sunk – What’s the Difference?

“You sank my battleship!” is a familiar cry for those who enjoy the old Milton-Bradley strategy game Battleship.

Many players of the game, though, are just as likely to yell, “You sunk my battleship!” during the game. Are both of these utterances grammatically sound? Was there a mistake on the part of Milton-Bradley, or is the mistake made by players of the game?

While sank and sunk are both past tense conjugations of the same verb, they are used in different contexts, and as you will see after reading this article, Milton-Bradley and frustrated players cannot both be correct.

What is the Difference Between Sank and Sunk?

In this post, I will compare sunk vs. sank. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that you can use to make choosing sunk or sank a little easier.

When to Use Sank

sank versus sunkWhat does sank mean? Sank is a verb. Specifically, it is the simple past tense form of sink, which means to descend from a high position to a lower one.

A ship sinks when it takes on too much water, for instance, and your spirits might metaphorically sink when you realize that your team will lose a match.

Here are a few more examples,

  • Sales sank from 800 million units in 2015 to only 350 million units in 2016.
  • Emiliana sank from first place to twelfth place in the official rankings after her humiliating defeat.
  • When it was raised 15 years ago off South Carolina, it looked more like a barnacled sea monster than the world’s first combat submarine to sink an enemy warship. The Hunley sank in battle during the winter of 1864. –The Washington Post

Sink is an irregular verb, which means it does not follow the regular English rules of verb conjugation.

Conjugations of Sink:

  • I/we sink: first person singular and plural present
  • You sink: second person singular and plural present
  • He/she/it sinks: third person singular present
  • They sink: third person plural present
  • Sinking: present participle
  • Sank: simple past

When to Use Sunk

definition of sank definition of sunk definitionWhat does sunk mean? Sunk is another conjugation of sink. It is a past participle, which means it is used with auxiliary or helping verbs, and it is sometimes used as an adjective.

For example,

  • The Titanic took on so much water after hitting the iceberg that it had already sunk by the time rescue boats reached the area.
  • Sunk costs are costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Sank and sunk are two past tense conjugations of the same verb, so it is only natural that many writers get them confused.

  • Sank is the simple past tense form.
  • Sunk is the past participle form.

Sank vs. Sunk Check: Sank rhymes with drank, the simple past of drink, and sunk rhymes with drunk, the past participle of drink. By remembering these rhyming verb tenses, you will always know when to use each one.

Summary

Is it sank or sunk? Sank and sunk are two conjugations of the verb sink, which means to descend or fall.

  • Sank is the simple past tense conjugation of the verb.
  • Sunk is the past participle.

They cannot be interchanged; there are clear usage cases for each tense.

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