‘Leading Me On’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on December 9, 2022

‘Leading me on’ is a phrase with several different meanings depending on the context. Let’s explore the definition, origin, and examples of this idiom.

The most common meaning of ‘leading (someone) on’ is to encourage them to expect something or do something, especially by promising them something they can’t have or by lying to them.

What Does ‘Leading Me On’ Mean?

‘Leading me on’ can mean a number of different things depending on the context. If someone accuses you or someone else of ‘leading them on,’ it means that they are being tricked into expecting something or doing something.

This phrase is often used in relation to the promise of a romantic relationship. For example, if there is a person that has been flirting with you and insinuating that they are romantically interested in you, but then you learn that they are already in a relationship, you might tell them to stop ‘leading me on.’

In this context, the phrase ‘leading me on’ or ‘leading (someone) on’ means “to encourage someone’s sexual interest or romantic interest without sincerity; to tease someone.”

Though this phrase is commonly used in relation to romantic or sexual relationships, it can also be used in relation to platonic or business interactions.

For example, if you’ve been looking for a job and a recruiter has been implying that they will hire you, you could say that they are ‘leading (you) on’ when you learn that the company they work for isn’t even hiring new employees.

In another usage, to ‘lead (someone) on’ means “to guide someone onward.” An example of this context in a sentence would be, “As they were ‘leading me on’ to the path, I noticed there was a hole in the bottom of my shoe.’

The word ‘me’ is the direct object in the phrase ‘leading me on’ and can be replaced with whatever pronoun or noun is appropriate to describe who is being ‘lead’ on. For instance, if you were trying to convince your friend that the person they’re romantically interested in doesn’t actually want to have a relationship with them even though they have been flirting with them, you might say, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he’s just ‘leading you on’!”

You can also say that someone was ‘led on’ when you are describing something in the past or that someone will be ‘lead on’ to describe an event in the future.

Where Does 'Leading Me On' Come From?

The use of the word ‘lead’ to mean “to guide” or “cause to go with oneself; go before as a guide” is an Old English word that stems from the Proto-Germanic word laidjanan. The phrase ‘lead on’ with the meaning “entice to advance,” dates back all the way to the 1590s.

There are some related phrases that are also quite old. To ‘lead (someone) by the nose’ means to “guide by persuasion,” which was first used in the 1580s. The notion of compelling someone through a series of irksome actions is communicated in the phrase to ‘lead (someone) to a dance,’ which is a figurative phrase from the 1520s.

Examples of 'Leading Me On' In Sentences

Now that we have a firm grasp of the meaning and origin of ‘leading me on’ and ‘leading (someone) on,’ let’s look at some examples in sentences.

First, we’ll explore sentence examples of ‘leading me on’ in relation to a person insincerely encouraging romantic or sexual interest.

  • “I really thought Jimmy was interested in me, but now I feel like the butt of a joke. This whole time he has been leading me on.”
  • “Sally has been leading me on for years now. I’m starting to wonder if I even stand a chance.”
  • “I really want to date Jonathan, but I’m afraid he’s just been leading me on this whole time.”

Second, let’s look at sentences using ‘leading on’ with the same meaning but incorporating different direct objects.

  • “Ralph has been leading Rebecca on for the entire summer. I’m starting to feel really bad for her.”
  • “The waitress looked forward to seeing Timothy every week on Friday, and she expected that he would ask her out on a date soon. The truth was, though, that Timothy was married, and he was only leading her on.”
  • "He is used to being rejected by women, but the way she is leading him on is just cruel."
  • “She had a terrible habit of leading guys on when she had no intention of dating them.”

Third, let’s look at examples of the phrase ‘leading me on’ or ‘leading (someone) on’ with the meaning of “to guide (someone) onward.”

  • “After leading me onto the train, the attendant told me there was a delay and we wouldn’t be leaving for another hour.”
  • “The guide says that he will lead us on to the trail that takes us to the top of the mountain.”
  • “Before lunch, we can lead them on to the gardens so they can see the flowers in bloom.”
  • “We got lost while walking in the woods, and luckily a nice local man was willing to lead us onto the path.”

The more idioms and phrases you know in English, the more colorful and interesting your writing and speech can become. Though their meanings can be confusing at first, you’ll find that learning idioms are a great way to expand your vocabulary and learn more about the history and culture of English-speaking places.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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