Welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of legal writing and English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.
Last week, we found out that 75% of our readers thought using the word “like” to introduce a quotation would like, make the speaker sound like a Valley girl, despite its apparent linguistic usefulness.
This week, thanks to popular demand from our readers, we’ll be turning to a contested issue among lawyers. What is the preferred past tense form for the verb plead — pleaded or pled?
We actually covered this issue in 2008. Back then, Lat noted that he used pleaded because he felt it “better captured the ‘past-ness’ of the event.” But what did the readers think? 62.5% of those who voted in our poll said that they preferred using pled.
And while pled may be the preferred usage, Grammarist notes that pleaded is the standard form:
Pleaded is the standard past-tense and past-participial form of the verb plea. Pled has always been considered incorrect by usage authorities, but it’s so common that we have to accept it. … But because pleaded is much more common and is unanimously accepted by all dictionaries and usage authorities, it is safer than pled. And it should be noted that pleaded is preferred by an especially wide margin in publications known for high editorial standards.
(That must be why Above the Law prefers using pleaded — because we’re a publication “known for high editorial standards.” Where’s a rimshot when you need one?)
Then again, Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy also weighed in on the issue, using some statistical analysis:
I checked the ALLCASES database in Westlaw (after seeing [the term] listed as equivalent in the dictionaries). And the results were:
(1A) text(“pleaded guilty”) & date(= 2010) — 7664 documents. [UPDATE: te(pleaded % “pleaded guilty” % “well-pleaded”) & date(> 4/1/2010) — 5017 documents; “%” means “and not.”]
(1B) text(“pled guilty”) & date(= 2010) — 8508 documents. [UPDATE: te(pled % “pled guilty” % “well-pled”) & date(> 4/1/2010) — 5573 documents.]
So both [uses] are fully standard, and I see no basis for labeling either “incorrect.”
Way to stick it to those grammarians, Volokh. Yes, pleaded might be seen as “correct” by some, but others hate it. It just sounds wrong. You don’t see very many people walking around saying, “I saided…,” do you?
So, dictionaries tell us that pleaded is the standard form, and a legal scholar argues that there isn’t an incorrect form due to the standard usage of pled. But readers, we want to know what you think.
Has our audience’s opinion changed since 2008? Let us know in our poll:
What is your preferred past tense form of the verb "plead"?
- Pled (57%, 751 Votes)
- Pleaded (43%, 561 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,311