Either tread or trod can serve as the past tense of the verb tread. But different sources disagree on the preferred option.
Since most people don’t use the verb tread that often, most don’t have to decide whether to use tread or trod for past tense.
Most of the time when we use tread, it appears in one of two phrases.
Some people warn others to tread lightly. This phrase can be meant literally as a warning to watch one’s step. It can also be used figuratively as a way of saying to be cautious in handling a situation.
The other common phrase involving the word comes from the old phrase, “Don’t tread on me.” The phrase became a battle cry in 1775 during the American war for independence from England. The yellow Gadsden flag featured a coiled rattlesnake above the phrase. The message was clear since the rattlesnake doesn’t back down when confronted.
Trod, on the other hand, is a word you almost never see or hear.
At about 10 minutes into this clip about the classic TV series The Waltons, its creator, the late Earl Hamner, offers a beautifully-written tribute to the place where he grew up. He includes this line:
I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers, back in time to where the first one trod and stopped, saw sky, felt wind, dared to touch Mother Earth, and call this home.
Should you use tread or trod?
Some sources suggest that tread is an acceptable past tense form of tread. To me, that doesn’t read well at all.
Others suggest treaded is the past tense, but this seems to only apply to the tread used on tires.
That leaves us with trod.
I found a quiz designed to instruct people about proper AP Style. It listed trod as the right answer to the question.
Here’s an AP story from February 2020 that uses trod:
Chloe is credited with inventing the concept of ready-to-wear clothing, and this show impressively trod a path between the insouciant ethos — one that doesn’t try to impress too much — that is the house signature, and a quasi-regal style.
But here’s an AP story from just last week that slipped up with the word tread as past tense:
Republicans tread carefully but found rallying points.
You can’t argue they wrote in present tense intentionally because if that were true, they would have written that they find rallying points, not found.
They should have said those Republicans trod carefully.
Yes, it sounds odd. But so does tread in that sentence.
Sometimes, you have to choose the correct form, even with both the right and wrong forms sound off.