2015.2: Grammar Peeve


A defendant should never “plea guilty” because “plea” is not a verb. The infinitive is “to plead.” The past tense is “pleaded” or “pled.” Which you use is a matter of personal preference, either yours or your readers’, but the Oxford English Dictionary and Garner’s Modern American Usage both prefer “pleaded.”

A case should not under any circumstances “be plead,” but it might be pled (or pleaded) if necessary.

(I wrote about this seven years ago. I’m probably the only one who remembers, other than Justice Jim Sharp, who in 2012 left a comment threatening to use “plead” as the past tense in a footnote. I seem to have (aided by the authority of OED and GMAU) prevailed on Justice Sharp, who used “pled” in opinions before his comment, and “pleaded” after.)


6 responses to “2015.2: Grammar Peeve”

  1. I wasn’t convinced the first time I read your “Plea Plead Pleaded Pled? Please!” post, but I’m on board now. I pledge to stop using “pled” and to join you and Garner writing and saying “pleaded.”

    (As much as I would normally defer to Bryan Garner on any question of English usage, it’s your exchange with Justice Sharp that won me over. “Pled” has always felt correct to me; I resisted “pleaded” because it felt as incorrect as “readed.” But I’ll try to keep “kneaded” and “beaded” in mind. Those are good, persuasive examples.)

  2. I don’t understand. The Oxford English Dictionary has “plea” as a verb (meaning “plead”) attested back to 1450, first as a regional variation from northern England and Scotland, but now also U.S. The quotations show “plea’d” as the past tense (with the apostrophe) between 1816 and 2002 and “pley’d” and “pleit” earlier, but these variations are just orthographic, not grammatical. Since modern English orthography tends to omit apostrophes, “plead” as the past tense of “plea” (v.) is the most natural choice. Why does this well-established English usage bother you so much?

    • My OED lists “plea, v. Sc. and north. dial.” with quotations between 1440 and 1887.

      In the U.S., amongst lawyers, “plea” as verb is not well-established. It is, rather, grating to the ear and confusing to the eye. It supplants with a noun a perfectly good verb, and makes the user sound like an ignorant rube.

      Other than that, no reason.

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