Pleaded vs. Pled
A reader asks to know the past tense and past participle of the verb “to plead”:
I have heard “pled” being used. Is this correct?
The question of pleaded vs. pled is the source of much online discussion, little of it neutral:
I personally think it makes newscasters and journalists sound ignorant when they use “pleaded” to describe what some defendant did in the court.
I am actually shocked at the number of people who assert that “pled” is correct or that “pled” sounds correct to them. The hair on my neck stands up whenever I hear someone utter the word “pled.”
Some speakers despise pled as an Americanism:
The past tense of the verb “to plead” is “pleaded”. “Pled”, no matter how it is spelled, is an American illiteracy.
Others defend pled because it’s not an Americanism:
Pled, pled, pled, pled, I shall go ahead and use it! I grew up where UK usage was prevalent, but USA usage is now the norm. PLED is UK and Pleaded is USA English. I’m writing pled, pled, pled, pled, pled!!!!
Pled is not an “Americanism.” The British poet Sir Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) uses pled as a past form of the verb plead in The Faerie Queene (1590-1596):
And with him to make part against her, came
Many grave persons, that against her pled; (the trial of Duessa)
The OED gives pleaded as the past of plead, but notes that pled is used as the past form in Scottish and US usage.
A statistical analysis made by legal blogger Eugene Volokh of the use of “pleaded guilty” vs “pled guilty” and “well-pleaded” vs “well-pled” in the ALLCASES database in Westlaw shows an almost 50-50 use of the forms pled and pleaded. Volokh concludes that both uses “are fully standard” and that he sees “no basis for labeling either ‘incorrect.’ ”
Nevertheless, both The Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook come down firmly on the side of pleaded:
pleaded; pled. The first is the standard past-tense and past-participial form. Avoid pled. –CMOS, 5.220 “Good usage versus common usage.”
plead, pleaded, pleading: Do not use the colloquial past tense form, pled. –AP Stylebook.
With two such influential style guides against it, pled–at least in printed matter–will probably fade away.
A site for lawyers called Above the Law polled readers in 2008 and again in 2011, asking how many preferred pled to pleaded. In 2008, pled garnered 62.5% of the vote; in 2011, pled was still ahead, but the percentage of speakers preferring it had slipped to 57%.
On the other hand, pled will very likely hang on in speech.
Many speakers, perceiving a difference between pleaded and pled, use both, depending on context.
For many speakers, pleaded carries the connotation of begging or beseeching, whereas pled is a less loaded word:
The condemned man pleaded for his life.
The witness pled the Fifth.
Many English verbs retain two past forms that are used with different meanings. For example, the verb “to hang” retains two past forms: hanged and hung. And both CMOS and AP allow for the use of both forms:
hanged; hung. Hanged is used as the past participle of hang only in its transitive form when referring to the killing (just or unjust) of a human being by suspending the person by the neck: “Criminals were hanged at Tyburn Hill.” But if death is not intended or likely, or if the person is suspended by a body part other than the neck, hung is correct: “He was hung upside down as a cruel prank.” In most senses, of course, hung is the past form of hang: “Mark hung up his clothes.” All inanimate objects, such as pictures and Christmas stockings, are hung. –CMOS, 5.220 “Good usage versus common usage.”
hang, hanged, hung: One hangs a picture, a criminal or oneself. For past tense or the passive, use hanged when referring to executions or suicides, hung for other actions. –The AP Stylebook.
Bottom line: Both pleaded and pled are acceptable Standard English. Use the form you prefer in speech. Use the form required by your style guide for writing.
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