'Lead' or 'Led': What Is the Past Tense of 'Lead'?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 17, 2023

'Lead' or 'led': two commonly confused words, as they can sound the same but also different. Which of the two is the past tense of the verb 'to lead?'

In short, 'led' is the past tense of the verb 'to lead.' Read on to find out how to pronounce the two words and why 'lead' and 'led' are so often confused.

What Is the Past Tense of 'Lead'?

'Lead' is both a verb and a noun, which is why the two words often need clarification. Plus, it can be pronounced in two different ways: one that rhymes with 'head' and one that rhymes with 'speed.'

That makes 'lead' both a homograph and a homonym.

What Does 'Lead' Mean?

The verb 'lead' is always pronounced in a way that rhymes with 'speed.' It means to take a position ahead of others. To guide them or take charge. The related noun is 'leader.'

For example:

You're the manager; I expect you to lead the team.

The noun 'lead' is sometimes pronounced in a way that rhymes with 'speed' and sometimes in a way that rhymes with 'head.'

In the former case, a 'lead' is a piece of rope or chain tied to an animal's neck to take them for a walk or keep them under control.

For example:

I can't take my dog on a walk until I find its lead.

It's also the noun form of the verb 'to lead.'

For example:

He took the lead and remained there for the rest of the race.

In the latter case, 'lead' is a kind of soft metal.

For example:

There should be no lead pipes remaining in your home.

What Does 'Led' Mean?

'Led' is a little less confusing: it only has one meaning. It is the past indefinite tense of the verb 'to lead.'

So remember earlier when I said the verb 'to lead' meant to guide others and be a leader? 'Led' is the past tense form of that verb. So you'll use it whenever you want to talk about someone showing leadership in the past.

For example:

He led his horse down to the river to hydrate itself.

One possible reason for the confusion about the past tense of 'lead' is that some similar verbs use the same word for the infinite form of the verb, as well as the past indefinite tense. 'Read' is one such example.

You can both say:

I want to read a book.

I read a book last night.

But that's simply not the case with 'lead.' The root form of the verb is 'lead,' and the past indefinite is 'led.'

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Lead' or 'Led'

As we've already discovered, there are two possible pronunciations for 'lead' and one for 'led.' 'Lead' in its verb form, or the noun form of the verb, or the noun that means a chain to put around an animal's neck, is pronounced:

[ leed ]

It rhymes with 'speed,' 'read,' or 'bead.' In the International Phonetics Alphabet, it's spelled like this:

/ lid /

As for 'led,' the past form of the verb 'to lead,' or the kind of soft metal, it's pronounced:

[ led ]

And it rhymes with 'bed,' 'red,' and 'head.' The IPA spells it like this:

/ lɛd /

When to Use 'Lead' or 'Led'

Now let's take a look at some example sentences that use these two words, so you can see how they work in context.

We'll start with 'lead.'

Example Sentences of 'Lead'

I followed your lead and bought the latest iPhone.

He's the lead singer of the band.

The tour guides will lead the way.

Lead has a low melting point.

Don't forget to put the lead on your dog; there are sheep in the following field.

Example Sentences of 'Led'

He led them to a certain death.

She led the way to the restaurant where they planned to have dinner.

You led me to believe something that wasn't true.

The trail led them to the forest, where they would eventually get lost.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was moving houses.

Concluding Thoughts on 'Lead' or 'Led'

Now you know the past tense of 'lead' and how to use both 'lead' and 'lead.' In summary:

  • 'Lead' is a verb and a noun
  • 'Led' is the past tense of the verb 'lead'
  • 'Lead' and 'led' are sometimes pronounced differently, sometimes the same

If you'd like to learn about more confusing words, head on over to our blog, where we've covered many others like these and continue to cover more every day.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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