The Difference Between Led and Lead image

Led (pronounced /LED/ with a short e) is the past tense of the verb to lead, which is pronounced as /LEED/ with a long e. The noun lead, which refers to a chemical element, is pronounced the same way as led.

Since both led (the past tense of “to lead”) and lead (the chemical element) are pronounced the same way, they are commonly mixed up in writing. The confusion between these two words usually happens when trying to decide which is the correct past tense form of the verb “to lead.”

Led vs. Lead

Some of this confusion likely stems from the association with the word read. The present tense of the verb read is pronounced as /REED/ with a long e. However, the simple past tense of read, which is still spelled read, is pronounced /RED/, with a short e.

The problem is, lead and led do not follow the same pattern. The past tense of lead is spelled and pronounced differently from the present tense: led.

Led Is the Past Tense of Lead

Led is the past tense of the verb lead.

  • He led the kindergarteners through the museum.
  • Marie’s experiment led to a surprising discovery.
  • You led me to believe that I am a terrible person.

Lead Has Many Meanings

Lead has several meanings—and two different pronunciations.

Lead: the Element

Lead (which rhymes with head) is a metallic element.

  • Contrary to what many people believe, lead pencils were never made with lead.
  • When we bought the house, we discovered that the door frames had been painted with lead paint.
  • Bullets are made of a variety of materials such as copper, lead, or steel.

Lead: Verb, Noun, and Adjective

When used as a verb, lead (which rhymes with greed) means to guide or direct. Led is the past tense of the verb.

  • Angela, will you lead today’s morning prayer? (Past tense: Angela led the morning prayer.)
  • The king hoped to lead his army to victory. (Past tense: The king led his army to victory.)

When used as a noun, lead (rhymes with greed) can mean position, example, role, or clue.

  • The home team took the lead after the first half of the game.
  • I will follow your lead.
  • The young actress was thrilled to play the lead in the show.
  • The detectives followed several leads to find the suspect.

As an adjective, lead (rhymes with greed) means acting as a leader:

  • I’m the lead singer of the band.
  • The fire was the lead story on the nightly news.

How to Remember

Think about it this way: If your sentence is in the past tense, use led. It’s as simple as that!

What are some other homophones you find confusing? Tell us in the comments below.

For more ways to improve your communication skills, check out these blog posts:

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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.

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