Pleaded vs. pled

Pleaded is the standard past tense and past participle of the verb plea. Pled has always been considered incorrect by people who make such judgments, but it is so common that we have to accept it as an alternative form. And pled is not just an Americanism, as some have claimed. It appears just as often (about one pled for every twenty pleadeds) in current British and Canadian news publications. Australians are the exception; they still seem to shun pled almost completely.


Pled is fairly common in American, British, and Canadian popular usage. Here are a few examples out of many:

Eighty-two confessed, while half a dozen others pled the Fifth Amendment, which protects people from being forced to incriminate themselves. [Washington Post]

So too did the Miami-based accountant … who pled guilty to helping forge documents. [Financial Times]

A Kelowna Mountie has pled guilty to a pair of charges stemming from a violent domestic dispute. [Vancouver Sun (article now offline)]


But because pleaded is much more common and is unanimously recommended by English authorities and reference books (the dozen or so we checked, anyway), it is safer than pled.


The ngram below graphs the use of pleaded and pled in English-language books published from 1900 to 2000. It shows pled slowly gaining ground but still far behind pleaded.


Check Your Text


  1. BackToDickens says:

    Pled is a more pleasant word that pleaded. Pleaded sounds like something done by a machine. Pled also has fewer letters. More, the word ‘plead’ would be more tastefully modified by ‘did plead’. Indeed, we have heard the future tense “shall plead” often, and it is kind to the ear. Why should the past tense be so crude?

    Permit me to advance a corollary:  the word ‘run’. To run.  To plead. Same-same. Past tense: pleaded.  Past tense: runned… ?  Uttering ‘runned’ would get any student in a decent school smacked upside the head.

    Now, to get to a point which causes me to spit my gin: the employment of the double past tense so often seen in the media. Although it pains me to set it to print, I put before you:  “… he had pleaded guilty… “. Torquemada could not so torture the language.

    As an aside, if ‘pled’ holds steady whilst ‘pleaded’ drops like a rock on the cited graph, what word fills the gap?

    English… like fine wine, savored but never fully understood.


  2. I am so sorry to learn pleaded is the correct word. 10 to 30 years ago, US newscasts always seemed to use pled. Now my ears are accustomed to it. Hearing pleaded makes me imagine the speaker will next claim the defendant fleeded the scene of the crime, leaded the police on a chase, and was finally caught because he bleeded on the victim. To me at least, it is so much more pleasant to hear that story as the defendant fled the scene of the crime, led the police on a chase, was caught because he bled on the victim, and now he has pled guilty.

  3. Correct or not, pleaded sounds dopey.

  4. Caveat: the phrases “pled guilty” and “pled not guilty” have enjoyed a (slight) majority in legal usage since 1998. You can verify this for free using Google Scholar. The word “pleaded” is more common than “pled” overall in legal writing because “pleaded” is strongly favored outside the context of formal legal pleadings. “I pleaded for mercy as I pled guilty.” “Pled” connotes a legal fiction grounded in formality. It means something different. After all, it’s not as if a defendant ever begs and “pleads” to be convicted. I’ve never understood why the Bryan Garners of the world insist that “pleaded” is the only word appropriate to cover all the bases other than AP and British usage says so. The majority has spoken. “Standard English” in the United States has moved on, Black’s Law Dictionary notwithstanding.

  5. I readed the newspaper OR I read the newspaper? I feeded my cats OR I fed my cats? I wed my husband OR I weeded my husband? Did I weed my yard OR did I wed my yard? The mechanic bled my brakes, he didn’t bleeded them! What is even worse, Google spell-check just put a red underline on the word “pled”. You are wrong Google!!! Only because of the internet, has “pleaded” wormed its way into our vocabulary. Don’t you know that it was more than likely a Kentucky-raised journalist incorrectly using his local dialect, or possibly even a 3rd grader that started this? Bottom line, “pleaded” is not a word and what a shame this so-called “authority” on the internet claims it is the proper use now. This calls for an all-out revolt against Google!

    • Jessica Swann says:

      Unfortunately, your argument is faulty, although spirited. The verb “to plead” is a weak verb and therefore not in the same category of verbs as “to read.” “Pleaded” is the correct past tense and the past participle. The same goes for “hanged” vs “hung.” try your theory by filing a motion/pleading with any federal court – the clerk will immediately redline your writing and will immediately discredit your writing is not grammatically correct. Things that sounds good aint always so good on paper.

      • Ronn L. Kilby says:

        I seem to remember “hanged” apples to the execution, “hung” for everything else.

        • He was well hanged.

        • I always thought to be able to use the word “hung” you had to have a helping verb. Such as, “I had hung the wallpaper.” But then again you usually hear people say, “She hung the ornament on the tree.” Is it more correct to say, “She had hung the ornament on the tree?” Now I’m confused lol

      • someguy says:

        Yeah, but lawyers need to justify their grammar like everyone else … and they are idiots half the time. I’d like to hear more about the weak and strong verb distinction you mentioned. ???

  6. Ronald L. Hughes says:

    But, in American courts, it was common not too many years ago, for Lawyers to say a “prayer” to the court, that is something similar to “I pray, my Lords, that you hear our plea?, etc.”

    Just how close is a “prayer” to a “plea?”

    • American courts have never referred to the judiciary as Lords.

    • The prayer is still used in boilerplate language in most complaints and it is merely laying out the request to the Court to do what is asked in the pleading. I still like to use the formal language i.e., “Comes Now the Plaintiff and for his complaint prays this Honorable Court…..” In my mind it is like setting loose a knight in shining armor to battle the corruption that is so rampant in Courts today! Every lawyer begins practice trying to be a knight in shining armor. Unfortunately many fall off their white horse and never get back up again, instead “facing the facts” justice often requires more money than most have to protect themselves.

  7. Ronald L. Hughes says:

    If “pled” is rejected, as my spell checker now shows, then why is not “bleeded” as correct as “pleaded?”

  8. Ronald L. Hughes says:

    If “hanged” is more correct than “hung”, like “Hung by the neck until dead!”, then why is “bled” more correct than “bleeded?”

    • Keldon McFarland says:

      Good question!

    • Hanged IS correct when referencing being hanged by the neck. A picture is hung on the wall. A person is hanged by the neck.

    • bananamana says:

      Because “bled” is one of a relatively small group of irregular past tenses. Most of the verbs that have irregular past forms (essentially any where the past tense is NOT the present plus “-ed”) are pretty common words.
      They are survivals from earlier stages of the development of English where they belonged to a group called, if I remember rightly, “strong verbs”. Couple of examples: bring/brought; run/ran; eat/ate; throw/threw. I don’t know how many there are in modern English, I’d guess a couple of hundred.
      (Obviously there are also many very common past forms that are regular (walk/walked etc.) – I’m not saying if it’s common it’ll be irregular, just the other way round.)
      “Plead/pled” looks as if it may be one of those old irregulars. … I just checked in the online Oxford English Dictionary (which gives extensive historical information) but I must admit it’s not all that clear on a quick look – I can’t read medieval English that well. Anyway, it could alternatively or even also be a modern formation by analogy with pairs like “bleed/bled”.
      Either is fine as an origin for “pled”.
      But your question was about “bleeded”. The reason that’s not ok is because there is a well-established and common past form for “bleed”, and in our culture, for some reason, there is a convention that if you have a well-established irregular word form, then it (usually) rules out what would have been the regular equivalent – “runned”, “bringed”, “eated” etc. There’s no particular logical or god-given reason why that should be so, but generally kids learn not to use those forms quite early on: they simultaneously learn that the irregular form IS correct and – a separate rule – that the regular form ISN’T. As if there can only be one right way to say any given word, which is obviously not logically necessary.
      The reason that form pairs like “pleaded” and “pled” can compete, coexist, cause doubt in speakers etc, might be just the fact that they’re in a certain stretch of the common-to-rare scale. Familiar but not everyday. Just guessing.

  9. Ronald L. Hughes says:

    It is also common in court, at least in the USA to make a statement “if it ‘pleases’ the court?…”, etc.! Does “Please” have anything in common with our current conversation?

    • Keldon McFarland says:

      What if someone asks “if the pleas the court…” asking specifically about the “pleas” before the court.

    • Redhead Fae says:

      I found it very odd when I went to work in the DA’s office to find that I served at the pleasure of the DA. Yes, that’s exactly how the wording of my employment contract was written.

  10. Ronald L. Hughes says:

    If anyone wants to know the answer to our common problem(s), then place it directly upon those who now manage the educational system! It is “profound” that these controllers of at least “written speech” regularly changes the rules for “papers”, IE, term papers, etc.~! There exists few of us who pounded our way on manual typewriters, to follow the traditions of “term papers”, etc., whilst we were in university to the type of paper required today!~!!! And it is no “laughing matter!”


    • Brena B. Adams says:

      What? I sense how upset you are but cannot identify an actual point in what you wrote. Your rampant quotation marks and exclamation points don’t add clarity. What do typewriters and term papers have to do with “pleaded” vs “pled”? I was enjoying reading various people’s outrages, and this comment stood out as a non-sequitur.

  11. CCarpenter says:

    You are wrong wrong WRONG!
    Pleaded is as clumsy and cumbersome as the polyester coated grade school teachers who insist to our kids that it IS a word and irregardless is not.

    • Keldon McFarland says:

      Your ranting is unreadable and unclear; use of punctuation is a key to getting your point across.

      • Ronn L. Kilby says:

        Regardless means without regard. Why would you say “irregardless?” That would mean without without regard. I assume. If it were actually a word.

        • Brena B. Adams says:

          If you accept the definitions that Google pulls up, then I feel I must point out that it does provide a definition for irregardless. It is a one word definition: regardless. Under the part of speech, Google clearly points out that “irregardless” is an informal word. Having said that, I despise the word and feel like CCarpenter is berating teachers unnecessarily. “But what about the children” is a feisty misdirection that has nothing to do with “pleaded” vs “pled”.

      • Brena B. Adams says:

        There was exactly the right amount of punctuation where it needed to be. Punctuation is not the issue in CCarpenter’s statement.

  12. Getitright says:

    You don’t even know Plea is the noun and Plead is the verb and here you are arguing tenses?

  13. Keldon McFarland says:

    I’m very surprised that “pleaded” is considered “more” correct than “pled”. I just assumed that “pled” was a specific legal usage and “pleaded” was a more non-legal term in the same ballpark as “passed/past”, yet more distinct than “burned/burnt”.

  14. So then the past tense of “lead” opposite of “follow” would be “leaded”? No, of course not, we use “led”. That is why pled sounds better … at least to my ears. I’m silly though! :)

  15. Penny Scown says:

    I expect it depends on where your ears grew up, as to what sounds right. As a New Zealander (and an editor), ‘pled’ sounds completely wrong to me and I would never use it. I would expect to hear it only in a legal context (which I think reflects American influence). On the other hand, in a novel I would expect to read: ‘He pleaded for his life.’
    It’s pointless making the comparisons with ‘bleeded’ and ‘bled’ etc, because everyone knows that the English language is not logical in its rules. For every example you quote to support this, there will be another ten examples that don’t!

    • Brad K. Hoona says:

      Everyone who uses “pled” also expects to read “pleaded for his life” in a novel. The speaker is asking for a thing (mercy). But in the legal context the defendant is not “pleading” for anything. He is formally declaring his guilt or innocence at his arraignment. It’s a different context. And a “well pleaded complaint” refers to the quality of a written legal pleading. It is likewise a different context from either begging for mercy or declaring one’s innocence orally in open court. Why the grammar nazis believe one word *must* cover all of these different contexts is beyond me. “Pleading” is doing a thing, “a pleading” is a created thing, and “a plea” is a formal response before a judge to criminal charges. It’s fine that the Brits use the same word for the past tense in all three contexts, but there is no reason why this must necessarily be the case, Bryan Garner’s anglophilia notwithstanding.

      I’ve got no beef with those who prefer “pleaded not guilty” to “pled not guilty,” but I do have a beef with those who claim that “pleaded” is majority usage in the US in the context of entering a plea of guilty/not guilty in open court. In that context, the majority of American appellate judges use “pled” and not “pleaded.” And that usage bubbles up from the parties and the trial courts. Therefore it is safe to say that the AP style guide admonishment against “pled” lags modern usage in the US. Those who assume “pleaded not guilty” is majority usage haven’t searched the phrase in Google Scholar. The word “pleaded” is indeed used more than “pled” because “pled” is only used in the guilty/not guilty context and “pleaded” is considered the only word to use as the past tense of “plead” in all other contexts. Any statistical analysis that fails to take this into account (including in the above Grammarist entry) is painfully flawed.

  16. wishladya says:

    I worked in California in my early years as a paralegal and we always said “the defendant plead not guilty”. The word plead was pronounced “pled”. It annoys the heck out of me to read the word pleaded. It does not roll off the tongue. When people speak do they say “the defendant pleaded guilty”? I never hear it. If the correct spelling is pled, then use it, but no more pleaded! Writers needs to read their writing out loud before they submit it. Pleaded is awkward to say. It’s uncomfortable to say. I hate to read it! Pled is how people speak.

    • bananamana says:

      And do you have similar problems saying “needed”, or “seeded”, or “beaded”?
      You can find contrasting regular/irregular pairs of rhyming words for any verb with an irregular past form. Go ahead, try it, it’s fun!

    • Brena B. Adams says:

      Say “He plead for his life” or “He pled for his life” out loud. There are specific contexts for different words and spellings. Say “He pleaded for his life” out loud and feel your mouth pull back for the long vowel sound like you are pleading with the character (in past tense). The short vowel sound is more terse feeling, less empathetic, befitting legal settings. The long vowel sound feels more literary. If we are going to get poetic about the sound of the language, consider that.

      • plead and pled both sound alike when I say them. Pleaded is the word that makes me trip over my tongue! Read plead to rhyme with said. Pleaded rhymes with seeded. Get it? Plead has two pronunciations depending on its use. (speaking legalese here). He should plead (rhymes with seed) for a lesser sentence. He plead (rhymes with said) for a lesser sentence. PS this argument has been going on since 2013! Note the date on my post above!

        • In US, Plead and Pled usually do not sound alike:

          plead = plEd (ea takes long E sound)

          pled = pləd (e takes schwa e sound, close to short a)

          pleaded = plEded (ea = long E, e = short e)

          I don’t recall specifically learning plead, pleading, pleaded in school, but always assumed that ‘pled’ had specific legal meaning, as I heard it used to report on a defendent’s entered plea. So in my head it was plea, pleaing, pled; and plead, pleading, pleaded. (Which is, of course, wrong – ‘plea’ is a noun.)

          • Actually you’re wrong. Plead can be pronounced “pled” or “pleed” depending on whether you are pleading or have plead. Plea in the courtroom can be either “how do you plea?” or “what is your plea?” It can be a noun or a verb. I worked in the legal field in three states for more than 60 years. The word that irks me the most is “pleaded” for the past tense of someone having plead guilty. He pleaded guilty is just WRONG! CAN THIS BE THE LAST YEAR I HEAR ABOUT THIS???!!! PLEASE!!!!

          • ps DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW OLD THIS ARGUMENT IS?!!!!! The last I argued this was over two years ago!!!

  17. Vierotchka says:

    It is like lead and led. To me, pled seems totally correct.

  18. Mr. WalrusQ says:

    She PLEADED for mercy.
    He PLED not guilty.

  19. “Pled has always been considered incorrect by people who make such judgments.” You can’t be serious. Pled is (and has been) commonly used in legal documents. So the people making “such judgments” just so happen to be lawyers and judges. You’re hilarious, though.

  20. bananamana says:

    The comments and associated approval ratings in this discussion show that people are more swayed by whimsy and fallacious reasoning than by information or logic. I’m not taking a position between the two forms under discussion, but it is interesting/heartening/dismaying, according to taste, to see such clear evidence that people believe exactly what they want to believe, and any “argument” that supports their preferrred conclusion will be favoured. In fact, there’s a case to be made that this very fact is one of the engines of language change.

  21. Pleaded hurts my eyes when I see it. Pled (or even Plead pronounced the same way) is the “modern” way I learned it in California legal circles in the 1960’s-1970’s. When I moved to Indiana the news used plead/pled as well and it trips right off the tongue. Pleaded makes you trip over your nose! It sounds awkward and ignorant to me.

  22. William Doran says:

    The reason the media uses pleaded is because the Associated Press Stylebook (the bible of journalists) has specifically stated “Do not use the colloquial past tense form, pled.

    • “Pleaded” is absolutely the colloquial form to my ears, at least without a preposition. “Pled” has more of a formal tone to it, more suitable for legal proceedings. I think “pleaded” came into more common use to avoid the spelling error of putting an ‘a’ into “pled,” which makes it present tense, so the knee jerk reaction is to add the ‘-ed’ suffix, instead of just learning how to spell “pled.”

  23. Law & Religion UK says:

    “Pled” seems to be the standard (or at least the majority) usage in the criminal courts in Scotland – as you will see if you go on to the BAILII website and search on the word.

  24. nimblejack says:

    Gotta love English. Pleaded over pled, but bled over bleeded.

  25. Mike Schneider says:

    I prefer “pled”, as “pleaded” is a mouthful. “Pled” has considerably grammatical synergy with similar past participle treatment of other short, one-syllable verbs whose pronunciation contains a predominant ‘i’ or ‘e’ vowel sound, with or without a ‘d’ already present:

    flee -> fled
    tree -> treed
    ride -> rode
    feed -> fed
    hie -> hied
    slide -> slid
    spy -> spied


    An ‘(xyz)-ed’ past participle form is usually mandated by the presence of an ‘r’ or ‘l’ or a ‘t’ near or at the end of the verb:

    greet -> greeted
    scold -> scolded
    ford -> forded

    Verbs ending in a strong hard consonant sound are all over the map:

    joke -> joked
    take -> took
    bake -> baked
    shake -> shook
    fight -> fought
    find -> found
    pound -> pounded

  26. Frederick Colbourne says:

    I reckon that the problem is that “pled” as the past participle of “plead” (instead of “pleaded”) should be spelled to rhyme with the metal “lead”. So “pled” is not a grammar mistake but a spelling mistake.

    The pattern follows the verb “to read”, not the verb “to lead”.

  27. keepsmewonderin says:

    Speeded or sped, pleaded or pled? Is it correct to say someone speeded away form the scene? English as a language is tricky.

  28. Pled sounds to me like it came from the word Pledge. So I wonder why pled isn’t the recommended word?

    • because it isn’t spelled right, plead (pronounced pled) is the correct spelling and it can be pronounced either plead or plead…”pleed” or “pled”…pretty much like lead or lead has two different pronunciations. In legal documents the correct spelling is plead…and it is the past tense of plead…not pleaded. Lost all respect for journalists these days anyway. PS we don’t dust with it.

  29. Law & Religion UK says:

    ‘On 13 January 2015, the appellant, who is aged 39, pled guilty to an attempt at “communicating indecently with an older child”; contrary to the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, section 34(1).’: Alistair George Ross v HM Advocate [2015] ScotHC HCJAC 80: Lord Carloway at [1].

    If ‘pled’ is good enough for the Lord Justice Clerk, it’s good enough for me…

  30. popular usage and correct usage is not the same,. However, many people worked very hard for many years to finally get “ain’t” into the dictionary by insisting on continued popular usage. So, perhaps if everyone keeps incorrectly saying “pled” it may become a real word. One argument is that “bleed” is not “bleeded” so why is “plead” past tense “pleaded?” I would guess the double “e” as opposed to the “ea” may make a difference, but even if that has nothing to do with it the fact remains that all words are derived from many different base words, and different languages, thus, all rules do not always apply the same to all words. This is why it is important to pay attention in school and learn the correct usage of these words which are born from different parents instead of spending our entire lives mispronouncing them and demanding that the mispronunciation should become correct. On the other hand, language evolves and the evolution of language is most often due to common incorrect usage and mispronunciations. Language would be stagnant and boring without these contributions from the uneducated population.

  31. jimmy midnight says:

    Great stuff from my Dickensian new acquaintance. The essence of our agreement is allegiance the writer’s oath: “Above all, avoid the awkward.” Sadly for our friend the pluperfect. “Had pled,” also sounds…well, sub-optimal anyway.

    Pled seems better for jurisprudential contexts. Pleaded is more beggarly. But it should become a transitive verb when lawyers do it to “to” their clients, as in, “I pleaded him not guilty on grounds of…”

  32. jimmy midnight says:

    I’d just ad.that I’lll continue to be a pled-ist, as “incorrect’ spelling clarifies

Speak Your Mind

About Grammarist
Contact | Privacy policy | Home
© Copyright 2009-2014 Grammarist
Ad will be closed in 5 sec.

Sign up for our mailing list

Sign up for our mailing list