There are things in this world that we plead for and never get. For some people, one of those things is some clarity on what, exactly, separates pled from pleaded—or if one of those forms should be avoided entirely.
The answer largely depends on who you ask.
What does pleaded mean?
Plead is a verb that means “to appeal or entreat earnestly.” It’s often used when referring to the law and court, as in “to allege or set forth (something) formally in an action at law.” This judicial association dates to the origin of the word itself, as plead was first recorded in 1200–50 and comes from the French plaidier. The related word plea is slightly older, was recorded in 1175–1225 and from the French plaid. Both plead and plea can ultimately be traced back to the Latin verb placēre, meaning “to please.”
Someone can plead ignorance to a crime, for example, or plead for forgiveness for something they’ve done.
The confusion with pled comes when you consider the past tense of plead. Pleaded is the formal past tense, and it’s the one that style guides like The AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style suggest. Since many respected media organizations follow one of these two style guides, pleaded is the past tense form you’re most likely to see in the news.
In the highest court in the United States, pleaded is the one used most often as well. In court and in common usage, however, you shouldn’t be surprised to spot someone using pled instead.
What does pled mean?
Pled is used as a more casual swap for the formal past tense pleaded, and pled has the same definition. Who uses the word and how they use it is different, however.
Why does plead have two past tense forms?
Pleaded is the original version of the past tense. However, English speakers have a tendency to hypercorrect—or correct a word that doesn’t need correction. That’s how we’ve ended up with dove as the past tense of dive (the original form is dived). Dive acquired an ending of dove because to our ears it sounds like drive, and its past tense is drove.
Despite their differences, both pleaded and pled are acceptable in a general context. There’s a reason, after all, that the dictionary definition of plead includes both as past tense forms.
So the next time you’re faced with the option, keep in mind that no matter how often style guides have pleaded for the formal spelling to be the standard, you’ve been fine most of the times that you’ve pled to stick with the informal.