Pleaded or Pled? Here Comes the (Grammar) Judge!

Whenever someone in a newsroom writes a crime story, someone has to deal with the controversy over the words pleaded or pled.

When you’re writing about someone who has entered a guilty plea, should you say he pleaded or pled guilty?

The right answer depends on the style guide their newsroom embraces.

Many newsrooms use the Associated Press Style Book for such questions. AP Style is a standardized style guide designed to create consistency. Why would that be so important? Consider that AP members include newspapers, radio stations and television stations. As AP members, they share content with each other.

It’s important, therefore, that there is consistency among those many, diverse writers.

The Associated Press makes it quite clear: we’re advised to use pleaded, not pled.

Since that’s AP’s rule, most journalists simply follow it. At least, they follow it until such day that AP decides it’s changing a rule to make us all go crazy!

Of course, not everyone agrees.

The word plead entered our language from the same word out of Middle English (in the sense ‘to wrangle’). It relates to the Old French plaidier, meaning “go to law” and plaid, meaning “discussion.”

You already know, I’m sure, that pleaded is the past tense of plead.

For that matter, pled is also a past tense of plead.

The Grammarist argues that despite pleaded being the standard form, pled is so commonly used that it must be considered a common alternative.

Michigan Radio NPR presented an interesting argument in favor of pled. using the word bleed.

You wouldn’t say “bleeded” — you’d say “bled.” The same goes for words like “speed” and “sped,” and “feed” and “fed.” Following that pattern, it’s not hard to see how “plead” could become “pled.”

 If you really want to nitpick, there’s at least one difference between plead and their examples: theirs have two Es while plead has an EA. When there are two of the same letter, you just drop one of them. When there are two different vowels, is it really apples to apples?

You have to decide for yourself.

You’re not wrong to use pled. That is, unless, you’re writing under a style guide like the Associated Press Style Book. In that case, the style you follow dictates pleaded.

And you should comply with whichever style guide you choose for consistency’s sake.

Do you have a preference? Which sounds more correct to you?

1 Comment

  1. Plea, plead, pled, pleaded. Why not just plea and plea-ed? I think that somebody, long ago, just didn’t like the look of too many vowels in a row. Grammar nerds often lead anal lives, and look where that has led (leaded?) us. 🙂

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.