Lead vs. Led

The English language is full of confusing words, and they become even more confusing when you don’t always see them used the right way.  Lead and led are two words that are often used the wrong way.

man leading his horse, www.writingofriding.com

man leading his horse, www.writingofriding.com

He lead the horse to the stall.
He led the horse to the stall.

Which one of the above sentences is correct? If you aren’t sure, maybe that will change by the time you are done reading this article.

The fact that I have seen these words used the wrong way in books, in newspapers, on the internet, and even on school bulletin boards hasn’t helped any. After you see a word used wrong so many times in so many different places, it is almost inevitable that you will start messing up and using it wrong too. But if you knew how to use the word properly in the first place, you should have at least a twinge of doubt about it in your mind when you see it used the wrong way. That is when you need to pull out your dictionary.

Lead can be a noun, a verb, or an adjective. Led is always a verb; it is the simple past tense and past participle form of lead. Never would I get the noun or adjective form of lead confused with led. I would confuse the verb forms.

marathon, wikipedia

marathon, wikipedia

As a noun, lead (pronounced with a long e) can mean the first place. If you are running a race, and you are in the foremost position, then you are in the lead.
Richard took the lead in the marathon.

A dog’s leash can be called a lead.
Allowing Precious to run with me without her lead attached was a painful mistake.

lead is a tip or piece of information that will direct or guide. A reporter always likes to find a good lead.
The reporter hoped the excellent lead would provide her with a fantastic story.

mechanical pencil lead, wikimedia commons

mechanical pencil lead, wikimedia commons

When pronounced with a short e, lead is a metal. Bullets are commonly called lead. And lead is what makes it possible to write with a pencil.
Heather pressed down on the paper so hard with her pencil that she broke its lead.

As an adjective, lead (pronounced with a long e) means the most important. You could have a lead runner or a lead story. The lead role in a play is coveted by those in acting.
The team’s lead runner sprained his ankle while walking to the mailbox.

If you pronounce the adjective form of lead with a short e, it means made of or containing lead.
The lead pipe sprung a leak.

Norwegian tour group being led by guide at Temple of Heaven, wikimedia commons

Norwegian tour group being led by guide at Temple of Heaven, wikimedia commons

As a verb, lead (pronounced with a long e) means to show the way, to guide in directions or opinion, or to bring.
The pirate’s hostage was asked to lead the way to the treasure.

Led (pronounced with a short e) is always a verb. It is the past tense of lead.
The lead singer of the group was led backstage.

If you have ever been confused about whether to use lead or led, it is my hope that you are no longer confused. Writing this article has given me a much clearer understanding of when to use each of these words.

Recommended Article: Lightning vs. Lightening


  1 comment for “Lead vs. Led

  1. mzshah
    May 5, 2015 at 5:44 am

    this something very interesting as well as informative

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *