Pleaded vs. Pled

Recently, there was some speculation about the authorship of a Donald Trump tweet that hinged on the use of the past tense "pled." Trump's account had tweeted the former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had "pled" guilty of lying to the FBI. Fearing the tweet amounted to an admission of obstruction of justice, Trump's lawyer John Dowd claimed responsibility for the tweet.

Some observers weren't buying it. The word "pleaded" seemed more lawyerly, they argued, and therefore "pled" could not have been written by an attorney.

"Pled" is actually a longtime peeve of mine. Years ago, I looked it up to prove that its users were wrong. Of course, I was the one who was wrong. "Pled" and "pleaded" are both acceptable past-tense forms of the verb "to plead."

But that's general usage. It's quite possible that, within their own close-knit profession, lawyers have their own standards and official or unofficial preferences for forming the past tense of "plead."

So what's their verdict? As linguist Ben Zimmer showed in a recent piece for the Atlantic, you can't spot a lawyer by his use of "pled."



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