“Led” vs. “Lead”: What’s The Difference?

It’s easy to get misled when trying to follow all the twists and turns that the word lead can take, especially because its pronunciation varies as both a verb and a noun depending on which sense or form is being used.

In this article, we’ll lead you through the differences between lead and led, explain why lead is considered an irregular verb, and give examples of how lead and led are used in sentences.

Quick summary

When lead is used as an irregular verb (pronounced [ leed ]), its past tense form and past participle form is led, as in He has led meetings in the past. As a noun, lead has several meanings related to being in the first or foremost position or place (in which case it’s pronounced [ leed ]). But lead is also used as a noun to refer to the metal (in which case it’s pronounced [ led ], identically to the past tense and past participle forms of the irregular verb—which is likely the source of most of the confusion). Much less commonly, lead can be used as a regular verb (past tense form leaded) in the context of using the metal lead or adding it to something (in which case it’s also pronounced [ led ]).

When to use led or lead

As an irregular verb, lead (pronounced [ leed ]) has many different meanings, including very commonly used senses such as “to show the way,” “to guide,” “to cause,” “to bring,” “to command,” and “to have top position or first place in.”

For example:

  • I hope to lead the race after the first lap.
  • After your promotion, you will lead the marketing department.
  • The sheepdogs are trained to lead sheep into the pens.
  • Experts predict that inflation will lead to less consumer spending.

When used this way, lead is considered an irregular verb because its past tense and past participle form is led (not leaded).

For example:

  • I led the race after the first lap.
  • Erin has led the marketing department since her promotion.
  • The sheepdogs led the sheep into the pen.
  • Inflation has led to less consumer spending.

Lead can also be used as a noun with many different meanings relating to people or things being in a foremost position. For these senses, it’s pronounced [ leed ].

Which should you use, burnt or burned?

The confusion around the words lead and led is likely due to the fact that lead is also used as a noun in the sense of the metal. This sense of lead is pronounced identically to led, which can be especially confusing in speech when you can’t see the different spellings.

There is also a much less commonly used verb sense of lead (pronounced [ led ]) that relates to using the metal lead in some way, such as by treating them with it or adding it to them. This sense is a regular verb—the past tense and past participle form is leaded.

You can avoid some confusion by remembering that the word led is only ever used as the past tense or past participle of lead.

Verbs similar to lead

Another verb that can follow the same pattern as the irregular verb lead is plead. However, plead can use pled or pleaded as its past tense and past participle form.

Are you guilty of not knowing whether to use pled or pleaded? Find out with our guide.

The irregular verb read (pronounced [ reed ]) changes pronunciation for its past tense and past participle form, but not spelling: it continues to be spelled read, but it’s pronounced [ red ].

Although it’s spelled slightly differently, the irregular verb lead follows a conjugation pattern similar to a number of irregular verbs that end in -eed and rhyme with it. These change in both spelling and pronunciation for their past tense and past participle forms.

For example:

present tense past tense past participle
lead led led
bleed bled bled
feed fed fed
breed bred bred
speed sped sped

Examples of led and lead used in a sentence

Let’s look at some example sentences that show the different ways that lead and led are used.

  • We need someone who can lead us through the good times and the bad.
  • The depressing tone led me to believe the movie wasn’t going to have a happy ending.
  • The senator led a panel about the dangers of lead in drinking water.
  • I had been led on a wild goose chase by the rumors of lost pirate treasure.
  • The lead investigator discovered a lead that led her to believe that the businessman had begun to lead an illegal lead mining operation.

See how much you have learned with our quiz

Are you ready to test yourself on everything you have reviewed about these past tense forms? If so, show off your skills by taking our quiz on these forms of the verb lead. You may surprise yourself with what you’ve learned!

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