LawProse Lesson #100

Is the correct past tense pleaded or pled – or perhaps plead?

That depends. If you want to be unimpeachably correct, you’ll write pleaded in all past-tense uses <has pleaded guilty>. If you’re happy to defend yourself on grounds of “common” usage based on what many others do — despite mountains of contrary authority — you’ll probably use pled <has pled guilty>. If you’re a tin-eared writer who believes there’s no right or wrong other than what you yourself think, you might analogize plead to read and use plead as a past-tense form <he plead guilty>. Your choice. But first consider two points.

First, in their magisterial Federal Practice and Procedure, the incomparable Charles Alan Wright and Arthur Miller give well-pleaded complaint as the only possibility (see § 3566).

Second, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, I quote eight usage authorities insisting that pleaded is the preferable past-tense form — the other forms being inferior (see 3d ed. 2009 at 633-34).

If you need still more evidence, see Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage (3d ed. 2011 at 682).

And if the evidence cited there doesn’t convince you, then you may be a mumpsimus. Don’t know what a mumpsimus is? Look it up in an unabridged dictionary. You may not be happy about the moniker — but there’s still time for you to adopt a more enlightened view.

Please don’t say I haven’t pleaded with you to adopt the best possible usage in the English-speaking world.

– B.A.G.

Sources:
The Chicago Manual of Style § 5.220, at 293 (16th ed. 2010).
Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide 338 (1966).
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 682 (3d ed. 2011).
Garner’s Modern American Usage 633-34 (3d ed. 2009).
Charles Alan Wright, The Law of Federal Courts 106, 110,
124 (5th ed. 1994).
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law
     192 (2000).
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage 261 (1999).
Paul R. Martin, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style
and Usage
 187 (2002).

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