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:
|Present Simple: Lead||The guide leads the tour once an hour.|
|Future Simple: Lead||Jill will lead the project next week.|
|Progressive Participle: Leading||The Prime Minster is leading the party now, but will resign soon.|
|Past Simple: Led||The General led the army into battle.|
|Past Participle: Led||How 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:
- Feed (fiːd) rhymes with lead (liːd) – it has a long /e/ sound in the middle.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- That idiot _______ us the wrong way, and now we’re lost!
- John used to _______ the choir on Thursday evenings, but now Victoria does it.
- Will Sean do us the honour of ________ the wedding ceremony?
- Tina was nervous: she hadn’t _________a sales meeting for over 10 years.
- That path we took _________ nowhere.
- It’s not true that pencils used to be made from poisonous _________.
- Have you seen the _______ that connects the TV to the laptop?
- Dogs must be kept on a ________ in the park.
- The government could have ________ the country into a dangerous conflict if they hadn’t changed their minds about the war.
- Tiffany is so easily_________ by her friends – she does whatever they tell her to!