Lead vs. Led: Do You Know the Difference?


The English language is filled with tricky words. One such word is lead. With just four simple letters, it can have different pronunciations and distinctive meanings based on use and context. Let’s look at why that is, and how you can use lead correctly in its different forms.

What You Should Know About the Word Lead

Lead has two major meanings. The noun lead refers to a type of metal. It is pronounced with a short e as in red and set.

Lead (pronounced leed) is also a verb that means “to cause others to move to action.” That’s where the noun leader comes from; leaders are those who inspire others to act.

Most native speakers of American English understand that difference well enough, particularly because lead the noun (metal) and lead the verb (action of being a leader) sound different. However, things can get more confusing when we consider that the past tense of lead (the verb) is led.

This isn’t always consistent with other similar English words. For example, you could say:

“I will read [reed] that book tomorrow” or “I read [red] that book last week.”

In this case, the similar word is pronounced differently but spelled the same way. In the case of lead, you would spell it differently to be grammatically correct: “Our captain is going to lead [present tense] us to victory in softball” and “We were led [past tense] by our manager on this project.”

Lead vs. Be Led

Another nuance can be found in the verb phrase be led, which you’ll find in an infinitive phrase or in the passive voice of either the present or future tense. Consider the following examples:

  • The country will be led [passive future] by a new leader after the election.
  • A horse cannot be led [passive present] forward without at least a rope.
  • We will be led [passive future] to the conference center by our local association contact.
  • To be led [infinitive] by such an accomplished business executive is a joy.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, fill in the blanks below with lead (noun or verb) or be led.

  1. I will _____ our group to the summit of the mountain after dawn.
  2. The bag was so heavy we thought there were _____ bars inside.
  3. My cat was hungry, but she would not ____ to her bowl of food.
  4. Who will _____ our department if the manager leaves?
  5. Making the wrong friends can cause you to _____ to poor choices.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

  1. I will lead (verb) our group to the summit of the mountain after dawn.
  2. The bag was so heavy we thought there were lead (noun) bars inside.
  3. My cat was hungry, but she would not be led to her bowl of food.
  4. Who will lead (verb) our department if the manager leaves?
  5. Making the wrong friends can cause you to be led to poor choices.

 

Come Back for More Grammar Articles and Tips

Looking to sharpen your knowledge of American English or gain more grammar tips? Visit our blog again soon or leave a comment below to ask a question or share thoughts. You might inspire a future post!

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