[Note: A later post on this subject was published on May 7, 2021.]
Q: When I was growing up and a person accused of a crime proclaimed his innocence or acknowledged his guilt, it was always stated that he “pled” guilty or innocent. Now I hear poeple say he “pleaded” guilty or innocent. When did the change occur? My tongue has to take the Fifth when pushed to speak that word.
A: American dictionaries generally list both “pleaded” and “pled” (in that order) as past tenses for the verb “plead.” So you can say a scofflaw “pleaded guilty” or “pled guilty” and be correct either way, though the first is the more common form.
Bryan A. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage also says that “pleaded” is the predominant form in both American and British English. But in legal terminology, “pled” is a common variant in the U.S. (not in Britain). So it’s quite common to say of an American perp that he “pled guilty” or “has pled guilty.”
Since “pled” dates from the 16th century (even though it’s now all but obsolete in England), there’s no reason you shouldn’t stick to it if that’s your preference.