: a legal suit or action
: an allegation made by a party in support of a cause: such as
: an allegation of fact compare demurrer entry 1
: a defendant's answer to a plaintiff's declaration in common-law practice
: an accused person's answer to a charge or indictment in criminal practice
: a plea of guilty to an indictment
: something offered by way of excuse or justification
left early with the plea of a headache
: an earnest entreaty : appeal
their plea for understanding must be answered
Choose the Right Synonym for plea

apology, apologia, excuse, plea, pretext, alibi mean matter offered in explanation or defense.

apology usually applies to an expression of regret for a mistake or wrong with implied admission of guilt or fault and with or without reference to mitigating or extenuating circumstances.

said by way of apology that he would have met them if he could

apologia implies not admission of guilt or regret but a desire to make clear the grounds for some course, belief, or position.

his speech was an apologia for his foreign policy

excuse implies an intent to avoid or remove blame or censure.

used illness as an excuse for missing the meeting

plea stresses argument or appeal for understanding or sympathy or mercy.

her usual plea that she was nearsighted

pretext suggests subterfuge and the offering of false reasons or motives in excuse or explanation.

used any pretext to get out of work

alibi implies a desire to shift blame or evade punishment and imputes mere plausibility to the explanation.

his alibi failed to stand scrutiny

Examples of plea in a Sentence

We are making a plea to all companies to stop polluting the environment. The defendant entered a plea of not guilty.
Recent Examples on the Web Coleman’s plea agreement had made no mention of supervision after jail. Tori Otten, The New Republic, 12 Sep. 2023 But no charging decision came until the plea agreement was announced in June. Jacqueline Alemany and Devlin Barrett, Anchorage Daily News, 12 Sep. 2023 Angelini sold the pills for $100 and an eighth of an ounce of cocaine, according to his plea agreement. Lee O. Sanderlin, Baltimore Sun, 11 Sep. 2023 Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will ask that Hider be sentenced to 35 years in federal prison, followed by supervised release. Carol Robinson |, al, 11 Sep. 2023 Smith switched his plea to guilty that November, and Shah did the same at a hearing in July 2022. Esther Kang, Peoplemag, 11 Sep. 2023 Assistant State’s Attorney Carlotta Woodward did not request a specific number but cited the plea agreement recommending enough time for Alston to complete the youthful offender program. Dan Morse, Washington Post, 9 Sep. 2023 The Proud Boys received a 12-page offer for plea agreements with a deadline of Oct. 27, 2022. Bart Jansen, USA TODAY, 8 Sep. 2023 Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee on Monday set the date of Sept. 6 for all 19 defendants to be arraigned on charges and enter their pleas in the case. John Santucci, ABC News, 31 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'plea.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English plaid, plait, ple "contention, dispute, legal conflict, lawsuit," borrowed from Anglo-French plait, pleit, plaid, plé "speech, discussion of affairs, argument, dispute, action at law" (also continental Old French), going back to early Medieval Latin placitum "liking, will, pleasure, opinion, belief, design, decision, agreement, contract, gathering at an agreed time, assembly to decide on matters of state, session of a law court, law court, action at law," going back to Latin, "opinion, belief, (in law) agreed condition," noun derivative from neuter of placitus, past participle of placēre "to be pleasing, find favor, find acceptance, commend itself, be agreed on" — more at please entry 1

Note: The Latin noun placitum is based on impersonal use of the verb placēre, as in sic placitum est "it was so resolved." In medieval bureaucracy placitum was subject to a semantic explosion—J. F. Niermeyer's Mediae Latinitatis lexicon minus, a concise dictionary of Medieval Latin, enters 26 senses for the word, some much more common than others. It was adopted early in Gallo-Romance, and in the later Middle Ages pleit, ple, etc., remained a common word in Anglo-French and Middle English, particularly in the legal realm.

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of plea was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near plea

Cite this Entry

“Plea.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a defendant's answer to a lawsuit or to a criminal charge
a plea of guilty
: something offered as an excuse
left early with the plea of a headache
: an earnest appeal
a plea for mercy

Legal Definition


: an allegation of fact in civil litigation made in response to a claim compare demurrer
: a defendant's answer to a plaintiff's claim in civil litigation

Note: Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and in states where they have been adopted, civil pleas are abolished, and answers and motions are used instead. Such pleas were used at common law.

dilatory plea \ ˈdi-​lə-​ˌtōr-​ē-​ \
: a common-law plea which is intended to defeat the pending action or proceeding without involving any decision on the merits of the case
plea in abatement
: a plea entered by a party seeking postponement or dismissal of an action by setting forth some matter or defect regarding procedure, jurisdiction, or timing

called also plea of abatement

plea in bar
: a plea that alleges the existence of an absolute bar (as a statute of limitations) to an action
plea of abatement
: plea in abatement in this entry
: an accused party's answer to a criminal charge or indictment
: a plea of guilty
: an earnest entreaty

Anglo-French plei plai legal action, trial, from Old French plait plaid, from Medieval Latin placitum, from Latin, decision, decree, from neuter of placitus, past participle of placēre to please, be decided

More from Merriam-Webster on plea

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