Q&A: Pleaded or Pled?

Q: Hi there AWC, what grammar topic are we exploring today?
A: Wait, first – what’s with the grass clippings?
Q: Ah, it’s my new gardening business, Lawn Order.
A: What was that?
Q: Not sure, so anyway, with Lawn Order I’m—
A: Ah, we know what that is. It’s this
Q: Oh, right.
A: You’d better be careful they don’t sue you for infringing on their name.
Q: I’ll just plead not guilty. Hey, what’s the past tense of that? Is it “pleaded” or “pled”?
A: And so we finally arrive at this week’s topic.
Q: Yes, all thanks to my story about my Lawn Order busin–
Q: Okay, can someone turn that off?
A: So let’s begin by saying that unfortunately this is another one where English has thrown her head back and laughed maniacally like a dreamcatcher-wielding banshee.
Q: Oh great. How so?
A: Because both “pleaded” and “pled” can show examples from English where THEY should be the rightful past tense heir to the “to plead” throne.
Q: Examples?
A: Well, in the “pled” corner, they cite “bleed”, “read”, “lead” and “feed” all changing to “bled”, “read”, “led” and “fed” in the past tense. Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, “seed”, “heed”, “bead” and “knead” all become “seeded”, “heeded”, “beaded” and “kneaded”.
Q: And I guess I’d say I “weeded” the garden, not “wed” the garden in my business.
Q: Hey come ON –– I didn’t even say the name that time!
A: The official, older version is “pleaded” – and almost every style guide will insist on you using this, even prominent American ones like the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook.
Q: Excellent. Well that’s that sorted then.
A: Not so fast. According to a bunch of polls, more than half the American population would never write or say “pleaded guilty” – they’d opt for “pled guilty”.
Q: Houston, we have a problem.
A: And only in America, it seems. It’s what Grammarist refers to as preferred usage (“pled”) vs standard form (“pleaded”).
Q: Okay, so “pled” is seen as non-standard. When did it turn up?
A: It had been floating around for centuries but only gained real popularity in America from the 1970s. They even favour using “pled’ on Law & Order.
Q: So what about Australia?
A: Australia almost exclusively uses “pleaded”. We still acknowledge the existence of “pled” though – Macquarie Dictionary noting it as “chiefly US”.
Q: So would you recommend ever writing “pled”?
A: We wouldn’t. Despite it gaining ground, especially in America, it’s still a long way off from knocking “pleaded” off its perch. And, remember, this whole thing is usually only an issue for legal situations.
Q: What do you mean?
A: Everyone seems fine on writing “she pleaded for her life” (not “pled”), but when saying “she pleaded/pled guilty” or other legal matters (“he pleaded/pled the fifth”), there are those two camps we spoke about today.
Q: So it’s a bit like “hanged” and “hung” then?
A: Well, sort of. With that one, “hanged” is only for the noosed neck act (“they were hanged for their crimes”), while “hung” is everything else (“hung the painting”, “hung upside down”, “hung jury” etc). So you could argue that Americans using “pled” for the legal contexts and “pleaded” for everything else are similar. But we actually suggest just using “pleaded” for everything.  
Q: Excellent – thanks for explaining that.
A: Oh and hey, here’s the name of a friend of ours who needs some gardening done.
Q: Wow, thanks for that. Let’s see here. Lauren Dawder…
Q: Funny. Real funny…


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