Grammar Hammer: Pleading the Case

I am based in Cleveland, Ohio, and it’s been a bleak week when it comes to news in Cleveland. The Plain Dealer (in publication since 1842) eliminated around 50 jobs. On my route to work each morning this week, I’ve seen news trucks from every major network, spanning about a city block, with satellites raised, tents and lights up, and cameras pointed at the justice center. There has been almost nonstop coverage of the Ariel Castro case as he was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus an additional 1,000 years for the kidnapping and subsequent 10-year hell he subjected three young women to.

As the Ariel Castro case came to a head, a plea deal was struck. Castro was indicted on 977 counts of crime including kidnapping, rape, and aggravated murder. On July 26, 2013, he struck a deal. He pleaded guilty (or is it “he pled guilty?”) and was sentenced on August 1, 2013.

The AP Style Guide doesn’t mince words on pleaded vs. pled. It says, “Don’t use the colloquial past tense form, pled.” OK, got it.

To place a slightly finer point on the subject, the Dictionary of Modern Legal usage recommends “pleaded” as the best past tense and past participle form of “plead” (remember “plea” is a noun, “plead” is a verb).

Finally, Grammarist offers the following:

Pleaded is the standard past tense and past participle of the verb plea. Pled has always been considered incorrect by people who make such judgments, but it is so common that we have to accept it as an alternative form. And pled is not just an Americanism, as some have claimed. It appears just as often (about one pled for every twenty pleadeds) in current British and Canadian news publications. Australians are the exception; they still seem to shun pled almost completely.

I feel like this is one of those words like “judgment.” I’ve never spelled it “judgement,” but that is also now just as widely used as “judgment.” I will stick to what I know and remember my audience when choosing which word to use, offering no judgment of others.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

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