Led vs. Lead: Stay on Top of the Difference

Are you led by someone or lead by someone? Does your pencil contain led or lead? To tell the difference between these deceptively similar terms, explore the different meanings and uses of led and lead.

Led - Men marching parade vs Lead - Paint can Led - Men marching parade vs Lead - Paint can
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What’s the Difference Between Led and Lead?

Led and lead (pronounced lĕd) have several meanings. Some overlap, but others do not. Depending on whether lead is used as a noun or verb, the two terms may or may not sound the same. Most importantly, they are not interchangeable.

  • led - the past tense of lead (pronounced LEED); a direction

  • lead - to guide; first place in a contest; a chemical element

Meaning and Usage of Led

Led is the past tense of the verb "to lead," which means a particular direction or route. Many assume that lead is the past tense of the verb "to lead," much like read (pronounced red) is the past tense of read (pronounced REED). However, this is not the case. When the verb "to lead" is conjugated it becomes led, which has the same meaning as "to lead."

  • He led the parade.

  • I was led astray.

  • We were led to believe that the restaurant was open.

Additionally, when written in all capital letters LED is an acronym that refers to light-emitting diode.

Meaning and Usage of Lead

Lead is both a verb and a noun. Its verb form "to lead" does not rhyme with led. However, the noun lead does sound the same as led.

Examples Using Lead as a Verb

In its verb form, "to lead" means to set an example or to come first in a competition. The verb lead is pronounced LEED with a long "e." Lead can be used in the following contexts:

  • She’s taking the lead. (she is the head of the group)

  • The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease. (leading is synonymous with the primary cause)

  • The team had a four-point lead. (the team was four points ahead of the other team)

Examples Using Lead as a Noun

As a noun, lead (pronounced the same as led) is a chemical element. The core of a pencil is often referred to as lead even though it is actually made out of graphite.

  • The paint contained lead.

  • The symbol for lead is Pb on the periodic table.

  • The band’s lead singer got lead poisoning.

The last sentence uses both forms of lead. Even though they look the same, they are not pronounced the same way and do not have the same meaning. The first use of lead is an adjective, but has the same meaning as the verb "to lead." It refers to the singer as the leader or head of the band. The second use of lead also serves as an adjective, but it refers to the chemical and describes the type of poisoning the singer got.

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Spot the Difference Between Led and Lead

Observe lead and led side by side in the same sentence to see which term to use in which context.

CorrectIncorrect

The tour guide led the way.

The tour guide lead the way.

He led his team to victory.

He lead his team to victory.

The runner is in the lead.

The runner is in the led.

The teacher required lead pencils.

The teacher required led pencils.

Follow the Lead

Now that you know the difference between led and lead, follow the lead and discover even more grammar and spelling secrets. Explore the difference between born and borne, words that look and sound the same but where one letter makes all the difference. You can also check out deceptively similar words like weather and whether as a reminder that correct spelling matters.