This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn More. GOT IT!
study

Difference Between: Lead vs. Led

Lead (liːd) and led (led) are different forms of the same verb. The base meaning is ‘to control or guide a situation to reach a destination or objective’ – e.g. I lead a yoga group on Wednesdays. Led has the same meaning as lead, but is used to talk about the past – e.g. I led a yoga class last week.

Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Lead or Led?

Lead (verb) has many different meanings (see ‘additional meanings’ below to find out how many!). The main thing to remember when we use lead (verb) is that if we are talking in the past or forming a perfect tense, we need to use led. If we use the base form of the verb, we use lead.

Different forms, same meaning:
Verb FormsExamples
Present Simple: LeadThe guide leads the tour once an hour.
Future Simple: LeadJill will lead the project next week.
Progressive Participle: LeadingThe Prime Minster is leading the party now, but will resign soon.
Past Simple: LedThe General led the army into battle.
Past Participle: LedHow many times have you led a management team?

Here are some correct and incorrect uses of lead and led in different verb forms:

  • Captain Johnson will lead the ship for two more days. (correct)
  • Captain Johnson will led the ship for two more days. (incorrect: we don’t use led after will)
  • The porter led the guests to room 501 this morning. (correct)
  • The porter lead the guests to room 501 this morning. (incorrect)
  • Peter will have led the expedition for one month this Friday. (correct)
  • Peter will have lead the expedition for one month this Friday. (incorrect)

If you’re still confused about tenses and whether to use lead or led, think about other verbs you studied when learning tenses. For example, feed, which means ‘to provide food for a living being’. Feed is helpful in two ways:

  1. Feed (fiːd) rhymes with lead (liːd) – it has a long /e/ sound in the middle.
  2. The past simple and past participle of feed is fed and fed (fed) rhymes with led (led) – it has a short /e/ sound in the middle.

When considering whether to use lead or led, ask yourself: would this sentence need feed or fed? If it needs feed use lead, and if it needs fed, use led:

  • The lioness leads the cubs rhymes with The lioness feeds the cubs.
  • The lioness led the cubs rhymes with The lioness fed the cubs.
The word lead has many different meanings and this often causes spelling mistakes. One meaning of the noun lead is: a type of heavy, grey metal (Pb). This is pronounced (led) so sounds exactly the same as the verb led (past tense form of lead). Be careful with this!

What does lead mean?

Lead (verb) means: ‘to control or guide a situation to reach a destination or objective’.

Synonyms: control, guide, conduct, direct, manage, govern.

Set expression: Lead the way, lead up to, lead someone on, lead off with, lead towards, take the lead, lead someone up the garden path.

Additional meanings:

Verbs:

  • To be first in a competition – e.g. Carl was leading the race.
  • To hold someone by the hand or other body part to take them somewhere – e.g. Sandra was told to lead little Tommy into the classroom (by the hand).
  • To be indicated by something to go in a particular direction – e.g. This road leads the way to London.
  • To live a particular lifestyle – e.g. Barry leads an unhealthy life – he drinks ten beers a day!

Nouns:

  • A piece of rope or chain used to control an animal – e.g. The owner tied the dog’s lead to the lamppost.
  • An electrical cable – e.g. The lead wasn’t long enough to reach the TV.
  • The act of following someone’s directions – e.g. The coach told the players to follow her lead.
  • A piece of information that results in a discovery – e.g. The police have a new lead in the murder case.
  • The main performer in a film or play – e.g. Brad Pitt will play the lead in the new film.
  • Type of heavy grey metal (Pb) – e.g. Old water pipes are often made of lead. 

Adjectives:

  • Describes a person with the most important role – e.g. Dan is lead guitarist in the band.
Examples with lead (verb) in a sentence:
  • You lead the way and I’ll follow.
  • Does this road lead to the city centre?
  • I’m not sure who will lead the yoga class next week.
  • Dave and Sue lead a healthy life.
  • Who will lead the team when your boss leaves next month?

What does led mean?

Led (verb: past simple and past participle form of lead).

Synonyms: See first definition of lead above.

Additional meanings:
  • LED: abbreviation in capital letters for Light-Emitting Diode.

Set expressions: Used with nouns as a suffix to create adjectives concerning who controls something – e.g. student-led or market-led. Also used with adverbs to make adjectives that describe how someone responds to influence – e.g. easily led, or how someone directs something – e.g. badly led.

Examples with led (verb) in a sentence:
  • John led the trade union for over 30 years.
  • What led you to believe Mary was having an affair?
  • I’m not sure how Maggie’s career led her to move overseas.
  • The old path led to an abandoned house on the edge of the woods.
  • The club captain led out the cricket team at The Oval.

Quiz: Lead or led?

Try these lead vs. led exercises. Once you finish the activity, you will have led yourself to victory!

  1. That idiot _______ us the wrong way, and now we’re lost!
    a. lead
    b. led
  2. John used to _______ the choir on Thursday evenings, but now Victoria does it.
    a. lead
    b. led
  3. Will Sean do us the honour of ________ the wedding ceremony?
    a. leading
    b. ledding
  4. Tina was nervous: she hadn’t _________a sales meeting for over 10 years.
    a. lead
    b. led
  5. That path we took _________ nowhere.
    a. lead
    b. led
  6. It’s not true that pencils used to be made from poisonous _________.
    a. lead
    b. led
  7. Have you seen the _______ that connects the TV to the laptop?
    a. lead
    b. led
  8. Dogs must be kept on a ________ in the park.
    a. lead
    b. led
  9. The government could have ________ the country into a dangerous conflict if they hadn’t changed their minds about the war.
    a. lead
    b. led
  10. Tiffany is so easily_________ by her friends – she does whatever they tell her to!
    a. lead
    b. led

Answers: 

  1. b)
  2. a)
  3. a)
  4. b)
  5. b)
  6. a)
  7. a)
  8. a)
  9. b)
  10. b)
Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Sam S.
— ESL Tutor.
Find this post useful? Share it with friends!
Read more
  • Teaching Kids To Speak English At Home (The Complete Guide)
    kids
    Teaching Kids To Speak English At Home (The Complete Guide)

    In this detailed guide, we will share simple strategies and resources to bring more English into your home! This will help your children to speak English daily and make progress with their spoken fluency. We will show you how to build vocabulary, improve pronunciation and help your kids to gain confidence with their English speaking skills. This guide is for parents of children between 5-12 years old and all of the recommended resources are available online (and mostly free of charge). Continue reading

  • 10 Super Tips to Improve Your Child’s English Vocabulary at Home
    kids
    10 Super Tips to Improve Your Child’s English Vocabulary at Home

    If you want your child to speak, read and understanding English well, then it’s important to build their vocabulary at home. As a parent, you can help your son or daughter learn new words and improve by following the tips in this study guide! Small changes in daily routine to introduce more “English contact time” can lead to big progress over time for you child. Let’s find out how… Continue reading

  • Useful English Phrases For HR And Recruitment
    work
    Useful English Phrases For HR And Recruitment

    HR and Recruitment is a profession that uses a lot of specific terminology. In this study guide, we’ll share the most useful expressions to help you succeed at work and impress your English-speaking colleagues! We’ve included plenty of vocabulary with meanings, examples, dialogues and exercises to build your understanding of how English is spoken in HR departments in the UK. Let’s get cracking! Continue reading

  • IELTS Speaking Part 2: Topics, Questions & Answers
    exams
    IELTS Speaking Part 2: Topics, Questions & Answers

    This is the second guide in our blog series on IELTS Speaking. Here we will look at a detailed list of topics that commonly appear in part 2 of the exam. We will give you model questions with band 7+ answers, and top tips to improve your score. Don’t forget to download your free pdf copy of this guide to use offline. Ready? Let’s jump right in Continue reading