Stank or Stunk – What’s the Difference?

English verbs can be regular or irregular. Regular verbs are easy to conjugate since they follow a set pattern for conjugation. Irregular verbs, however, do not follow the same rules.

Stink is an irregular verb—many writers aren’t sure whether stank or stunk is the right word to use. The truth is that they are both correct, but they are different past tense conjugations, and they belong in different contexts.

Continue reading to learn more about these confusing verbs.

What is the Difference Between Stank and Stunk?

In this post, I will compare stunk vs. stank. I will use both words in example sentences to show you how they appear in context.

Plus, I will show you a mnemonic device that helps make the choice between stunk or stank a little easier.

When to Use Stank

stank versus stunkWhat does stank mean? Stank is a verb. Specifically, it is the simple past tense form of the verb to stink, which means to emit an unpleasant smell. Lots of things stink, like spoiled food, wet dogs, and garbage dumps.

Metaphorically speaking, an unfavorable event can also be said to stink. Losing the World Series stinks, just like missing the last bus home from work after a long day.

Here are a few other examples,

  • Jean-Marie stank badly after she didn’t shower all week long on her camping trip.
  • I planned to eat the last of the yogurt for breakfast this morning, but it stank, so got rid of it.
  • There were areas that stank of sewage and even electricity shortages. –The Washington Post

Stank is the simple past tense of stink, but what about the present tense? Here are a few other ways to conjugate stink.

Conjugations of Stink:

  • I/we stink: first person singular and plural present
  • You stink: second person singular and plural present
  • He/she/it stinks: third person singular present
  • They stink: third person plural present

When to Use Stunk

definition of stank definition of stunk definitionWhat does stunk mean? Stunk is also a conjugation of stink. It is the past participle form. Past participles are used with helping verbs like have or had.

Helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs, indicate an action that occurred within a sequence but is no longer happening in the present.

Here are some examples,

  • George had stunk for three days by the time he got back to town.
  • The star pitcher’s ERA has stunk ever since his bad game in April.
  • Teams have stunk in the preseason before and been fine when the lights turned on. –ESPN

As the last two examples indicate, stunk can also be used figuratively.

The most common mistake involved stank and stunk is to use stunk as a simple past verb. Since it is a past participle, it should only appear with helping verbs.

Past participles can often be used as adjectives, as well. In everyday English, though, stunk is not often used as an adjective. The default adjective form of the verb stink is stinky.

Trick to Remember the Difference

define stank define stunk Stank and stunk are both past tense conjugations of stink, but they are different tenses.

  • Stank is the simple past tense form.
  • Stunk is a past participle.

Now, let go over a memory trick to remember stank vs. stunk.

This irregular verb follows other irregular verbs in this conjugation pattern: sink becomes sank in the simple past and sunk as a past participle, for instance. Since stunk and sunk rhyme and they are both past participles, you can use these rhyming words as a reminder of the correct contexts for stunk. See sank vs. sunk here.


Is it stank or stunk? Stank and stunk are past tense conjugations of the verb to stink, which means to smell badly.

  • Stank is the simple past form.
  • Stunk is the past participle form.