I’ve always had a problem with pleaded. When I read it, it makes me cringe; instead, I wish the writer had just written pled, which, to my ear, sounds natural, and may or may not have been the way that my family and peers would have spoken when I was growing up—these things are hard to recall, and my recollections are probably more down-home than what I actually lived. Anyway, pleaded.
In his entry on it in Modern American Usage, Garner describes pled as “dialectal” in American English, and as something that strikes Brits as an Americanism. So, there are obviously enough native speakers in the States that it is relatively established, but not so many that the way they speak isn’t objectionable. (Garner classifies the error of using pled instead of pleaded as having progressed, oh me oh my, to “Stage 3” on his “Language-Change Index”: “Widespread but…”. The pregnant pause after that “but” presumably full of judgment, condescension, and scorn.)
If you map out the relative frequency of pleaded and pled in the Ngram viewer, pleaded is far, far more frequent; this makes an intuitive sort of sense because the corpus being searched was generated from books, and print generally reflects the usage patterns of a the literate segment of society.
So, pleaded is correct and my intuition that pled sounds natural is a statistical aberration. This is no big surprise: it’s not the first time that my assumptions about usage have been out of whack with the Proper Way.
Problems arise here, however. My assumption, though it apparently isn’t that of the literate many, or at least the majority of the literate, seems to be shared enough that it has crept into some interesting places. Like, for instance, the people who code spelling and grammar for Google. Pleaded is flagged as a spelling error in Google Drive, where I’m writing this up.
Even more interestingly, Ngrams apparently doesn’t include pleaded in its search for all of the verbal forms of plead (which you can access by appending an _INF to any verbal search token).
The table for plead in the search algorithm apparently lists plead, pleads, pleading, and pled, as all the verbal forms that the word can take. No pleaded. So, I apparently share this solecism with Google’s engineers. Maybe I’ll take solace in that.
Irritatingly, my WordPress Theme won’t display the Ngram charts, or even any of the text in this post, when I embed them. So. You’ll have to do the searching yourself.