Led versus Lead

Led and lead are commonly mistaken words because they are grammatically related and are sometimes homophones.

led versus lead

Led is always a past tense or past participle form of the verb lead.

  • The charismatic general led his army to victory

Lead is often the present and future tense verb from which led is derived.

  • The charismatic general will lead his army to victory.

When lead is pronounced the same as led, it is a noun.

  • The lead barrel.

When to Use Led in a Sentence

Led meaning: Led is always the past tense or past participle verb form of lead, which limits its use. To lead someone is to some him or her the way.

Example: “He led the police on a chase. He was afraid they would take away his dad’s truck, police say.” [Past tense verb] Source: Miami Herald

Example: “Scooter Braun appeals to Taylor Swift, says feud has led to threats against his family.” [Past participle] Source: NBC News

You may notice that when used in the past tense, led is an active verb, while being used as a past participle, it is usually passive.

Phrases That Use Led

There are a number of commonly said phrases that use both the past tense and past participle forms of led.

  • He was led astray by his friends. [Past participle]
  • She was the type of person who led from behind. [Past tense]

When to Use Lead in a Sentence

Lead meaning: Lead has many different definitions and can be either a noun or verb.

As a verb, lead describes the present or future tense of leading something or someone. It can also describe a state of being.

Lead as a noun can describe a principal role, a clue in an investigation, or an element, which is actually pronounced the same as led.

As a present tense verb, lead is commonly used to describe the act of leadership.

Example: “Grant Wood to lead Paul Peterson investigation, but attorneys say he’s biased.” Source: AZ Central

Lead can also be used as a verb to describe a state of being.

Example: I want the type of life I lead to be good.

When used as a noun, lead has a couple of different meanings.

Example: The detectives got a big lead in the homicide investigation.

Lead is also the name of a mineral that is commonly mined and used for a variety of different things.

Example: “UW scientists map areas of historic lead, zinc contamination.” Source: Daily Reporter

It is important to be aware of the context in which lead is being used to know whether it is a verb or noun.

Phrases That Use Lead

The most common phrase that uses lead is with the noun that sounds like led.

  • Get the lead out and start moving!

Led or Lead – Keeping Them Straight

It is important to remember that led has a limited meaning and that it is a past tense verb or past participle form of lead.

Remember that things wither away with time, or in the past tense.

So the next time you get confused how to use these two words, ask yourself if you need to use a past tense. If so, remember to use the one that is partially withered away, which in this case is the word with one less letter!

Test Your Knowledge

Use either led or lead correctly in each sentence.

  1. He ________ with a right hook during the boxing match.
  2. After several tryouts, she was awarded the ________ role in the play.
  3. The government announced that it was conducting a study of __________ poisoning in the region.

See the answers below.

Recap: When to Use Led or Lead

Although these two words sound alike, they are quite different.

  • Led is always a past tense or past participle verb form of the verb lead.
  • Lead can be used as a present or future tense verb.
  • Lead has more than one meaning as a noun, so be aware of context.
  • When lead is pronounced the same way as led, it refers to a commonly extracted mineral.


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