Pleaded or pled?

In Stay of Execution, Sheherezade asks practitioners:
bq. Past tense of the verb “plead”: “pled,” “plead,” or “pleaded”? Do you have a different answer if the sentence is “such a claim has not been ______ in this proceeding” rather than “Plaintiffs _______ X, Y, and Z in the complaint”?

I would have answered: pleaded in BE, pled in AmE. But some replies indicated that Garner recommends pleaded, and that Fowler was consulted (Fowler agreed with me, though).

I think there is a difference of usage between BE and AmE. I don’t think BE would talk about pleading a claim, or at least would rarely do so. A claim is argued or asserted, an argument is submitted.

We talk about pleading guilty or not guilty (a stage of proceedings never encountered in German criminal trials, although after the indictment – Anklageschrift – is read out, the defendant is asked what he or she has to say, and at this point it will become clear that the defendant admits the events or denies them.

German talks of Plädoyer for counsel’s closing speeches.

5 thoughts on “Pleaded or pled?

  1. As an AME speaker, I’d definitely _say_ pled. But if I had to write it (something I’ve never had occasion to do until now) I’d probably spell it “plead”, like read. I guess that’s what dictionaries are for.

    Not knowing if it’s appropriate legal jargon or not “plead a claim” sounds odd to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who used it was thinking “plead a?/the? case”. It seems to me that AME has a lot more of that kind of spontaneous mangling of set expressions (I once heard a restauranteur on TV say that his menu “runs a variety of gambits”.

  2. To plead a case, of course, that’s right. I took the example as normal American usage, but there’s no reason why it should be: it’s always difficult to invent examples.

    Maybe ‘to plead a case’ is equally common in BE and AmE – I haven’t done any investigation. I suppose it is often used in a figurative sense, outside court.

    The reason I have thought about this – a bit – is because the Germans use the verb plädieren more often than English uses the word plead. I looked it up in some DE>EN legal dictionaries. Dietl:
    vor Gericht plädieren to plead before the court (or at the bar); to plead (a case) to a court of law; to address the court as a lawyer (on behalf of either the plaintiff or the defendant)
    dafür plädieren, daß to advocate (or argue) that

    plädieren to plead, to address the court, to sum up

    Lister/Veth plädieren (auf) plead (for); sum up (counsel)

  3. I just checked with another AME speaker (also not a legal expert).

    It seems we both distinguish legal and non-legal ‘plead’.

    He plead not guilty. (we would both use that spelling, is ‘pled’ really considered correct? it seems awfully counterintuitive)


    He pleaded for his life.

  4. Michael, here’s a Bartleby link sent me by Mark Liberman of Language Log:

    I think you’re alone on the spelling – although America is a big country, of course. Are you thinking of a parallel to read / have read? What about lead, as in lead the way? The past tense of that is spelt led. A lot of English spelling is counterintuitive!

  5. Oh, and here are some Google results from Mark. Google is quite good for looking at language use if you’re careful (but just because you find a spelling 50 times doesn’t mean it’s ‘correct’):

    he pled 21,500
    he plead 7,340
    he pleaded 129,000

    has pled 8,810
    has plead 2,080
    has pleaded 84,800

    This shows quite a number of people agree with you: a minority, but a significant one.

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