Led or Lead – How to Use Each Correctly

led versus lead

What’s the Difference Between Led and Lead?

These two words can confuse people because they deal with the same verb. Led is the past tense of the verb lead. In addition to that, lead can also be a noun or adjective.

Because these two words are used for different tenses, they can never be interchanged.

Lead, as a verb, is the opposite of the word follow. It means to go first or to act as a guide. It is the present tense form, and rhymes with seed or feed.

As a noun, lead can mean the first position or a dog’s leash. For both of these meanings, it also rhymes with seed.

Lead can also mean a type of metal. It is the metal labeled Pb on the periodic table of elements. When used in this way, it rhymes with bed or said.

Finally, as an adjective, lead means in the first position.

  • Where you lead, I will follow. (verb)
  • The race has just begun, and Dasher On the Rampage is in the lead! (noun meaning first position)
  • Where is the lead? I want to take the dogs on a walk. (noun meaning dog leash)
  • There is lead in the water. It is too dangerous to drink. (noun meaning the metal)
  • She is the lead dancer in the play. (adjective)

Led is the past tense form of the verb lead. It rhymes with the word bed or said.

  • Harriet Tubman led many slaves to freedom in the mid 1800’s.

It can be hard to remember how to pronounce all the meanings of lead and led.

Let’s practice a few ways you can use these words in your sentences.

Using Lead in a Sentence

When to use lead: Lead can be a verb and mean to go first to show others the way.

It can also be a noun and mean the foremost position, a tool to control a dog while walking, or a soft metal.

Lastly, it can be an adjective and mean first or most important.

For all of these definitions it has a long e sound like in the words bead or creed, with the exception of the metal. The metal is pronounced with a short e sound like red or bled.

For example,

  • The tour guide leads tourists through the jungle and points out interesting animals and plants. (verb)
  • I bet on greyhound number 3. I’m going to win, because he’s in the lead! (noun)
  • My lead broke so my dog escaped and ran around for an hour before I could catch her. (noun)
  • Many people believe pencils are made from lead. However, they are actually made from graphite. (noun)
  • The lead singer is sick so she won’t appear in tonight’s concert. The fans are all disappointed. (adjective)

Although it might seem overwhelming to remember which of the definitions is pronounced which way, just remember only the metal has the short e sound.

Phrases That Use Lead

There are several common expressions using lead.

  • lead up to: preceding something.
    • There were many events leading up to the war.
  • Lead the way: Go first so that others may follow.
    • Fine, if you really want us to enter the haunted house we will. Lead the way.
  • Lead to: result in
    • Exercising leads to a healthier body.

In both expressions lead has the verb form and, therefore, has the long e pronunciation.

Using Led in a Sentence

When to use led: Led is the past tense and past participle of the verb to lead. It has the short e sound.

For example,

  • The quarterback led the football team to victory!
  • The music teacher led the class in a song.

There is also the word LED, which is an acronym for light emitting diode. It is pronounced as the three separate letters el ee dee. You can recognize it is different because it appears in all capital letters.

Remembering Led vs. Lead

One way to help you remember which of these verbs is the present tense form and which is the past tense form is that the word present has more letters than the word past, just as lead has more letters than the word led.

Also lead has more definitions than led.

Outside Examples

  • Unlike nearly every other team he’s been on, Rose would not be asked to shoulder the brunt of the scoring load, which could lead to him dominating the ball less than his career 27.9(PERCENT) usage rate and open up new avenues for him to impact the game. –Chicago Sun Times
  • The 24-year-old Kang and Chella Choi shared the lead heading into the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Kang won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2010 in 2011, but she has never won an LPGA Tour tournament. –Denver Post
  • Her work was deeply theoretical, but other mathematicians considered it boldly original and of untold future importance. Her doctoral dissertation, which she completed in 2004, solved two long-standing mathematical problems and led to publications in three major mathematics journals. –Washington Post
  • A study published last year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that the use of Proteus Discover led to greater reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol in patients with uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes than usual care. –Wall Street Journal

Quiz: Lead vs. Led

Select the correct word.

  • The conductor __________ the musicians in several beautiful pieces at last night’s performance.
  • My dog’s old __________ is so dirty that it’s ___________ to me needing to buy a new one.
  • I’ll follow you. _________ the way.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use lead or led? Despite having the same meaning as a verb, one is for the present tense and one is for the past tense. They are also pronounced differently.

  • Lead is a present tense verb, and has additional meanings as a noun and adjective.
  • Led is the past tense and past participle form of the verb.

Don’t forget to use the long e pronunciation for lead (except when referring to the metal) and the short e pronunciation for led.

Answers from Quiz

  • led
  • lead, led
  • Lead