Word Confusion: Lead versus Led

Posted August 8, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

The two words, lead and led, can be confusing and can sound alike — , i.e., it’s a homophone, if you look only at the metallic side of lead as a noun.

In most situations, lead versus lead is a homograph with the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings,

I suspect it’s more a case of spellcheck not being able to determine context and/or a typo on the writer’s part.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Lead Led
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Wooden open top boxes containing furniture and leading to secure type in chase.

Image by Edinburgh City of Print (Furniture case Uploaded by inductiveload) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The bits of metal in this old wooden box are the strips of leading used in printshops.

A Lippizaner stallion (Neapolitano Aga) being led out of the Spanish Riding School, Vienna

Image courtesy of David Monniaux and Wikimedia Commons [ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France license].

This Lippizaner is being led out of the Spanish Riding School.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective; Noun 1, 2;
Alternate spelling from the 1950s: lede 3 is intended to distinguish this particular definition from lead 1.

Verb 1, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: leads
Past tense or past participle: led
Gerund or present participle: leading

Past tense and past participle of: lead

Verb, intransitive & transitive
Most important

  • Principal
  • Leading
  • First

[Football; of a forward pass] Thrown ahead of the intended receiver so as to allow him to catch it while running

[Baseball; of a base runner] Nearest to scoring

Made of or containing lead

The initiative in an action

  • An example for others to follow
  • A piece of information that may help in the resolution of a problem
  • Someone or something that may be useful, especially a potential customer or business opportunity
  • [In card games] An act or right of playing first in a trick or round of play
  • The card played first in a trick or round

[The lead] A position of advantage in a contest

  • First place
  • An amount by which a competitor is ahead of the others
  • [Baseball] An advance of one or more steps taken by a base runner from the base they occupy while the pitcher has the ball

The chief part in a play or film

  • The person playing the chief part
  • [Usually as a modifier] The chief performer or instrument of a specified type
  • The item of news given the greatest prominence in a newspaper, broadcast, etc.
  • [Also lede; US] The opening sentence or paragraph of a news article, summarizing the most important aspects of the story

A leash for a dog or other animal

A wire that conveys electric current from a source to an appliance, or that connects two points of a circuit together

The distance advanced by a screw in one turn

A channel, in particular:

  • An artificial watercourse leading to a mill
  • A channel of water in an ice field

[Chemistry] A heavy, bluish-gray, soft, ductile metal, the chemical element of atomic number 82. 2

An item or implement made of lead

  • [Nautical] A lead casting suspended on a line to determine the depth of water
  • Bullets
  • Gunfire

Graphite used as the part of a pencil that makes a mark

[Printing] A blank space between lines of print

  • The metal strip used to create this space

The opening sentence or paragraph of a news article, summarizing the most important aspects of the story 3

Verb, intransitive:
Cause a person or animal to go with one by holding them by the hand, a halter, a rope, etc., while moving forward

  • Be a route or means of access to a particular place or in a particular direction
  • [Lead to] Culminate in a particular event

Be in charge or command of

  • [Lead with] Assign the most important position to a particular news item

Be superior to competitors or colleagues

  • Have the advantage in a race or game

Initiate action in a game or contest

  • [Boxing; lead with] Make an attack with a particular punch or fist
  • [Baseball; of a base runner] Advance one or more steps from the base one occupies while the pitcher has the ball

Verb, transitive:
Cause (a person or animal to go with one by holding them by the hand, a halter, a rope, etc., while moving forward

  • Show someone or something the way to a destination by going in front of or beside them
  • Be a reason or motive for someone

Be in charge or command of

  • Organize and direct
  • Set a process in motion
  • Be the principal player of a group of musicians

Be superior to competitors or colleagues

  • Have the first place in a competition
  • Be ahead of competitors

Have or experience a particular way of life

Initiate action in a game or contest

  • [In card games] Play the first card in a trick or round of play

[Printing] To insert leads between the lines of text

To fix window glass in position with leads

See the entries for intransitive and transitive verbs in the left column.
The shooting will be the lead editorial.

Dumbo is the lead elephant in the circus parade.

Did you hear about Ray being promoted to lead designer?

They forced the lead runner at third base on an attempted sacrifice.

The US is now taking the environmental lead.

Detectives investigating the murder are chasing new leads.

He went to a health fair, hoping to get some leads on a job.

Setting up a social networking page can help you get numerous leads.

The goal of marketing is to generate leads so the sales people can close them.

It’s your lead.

They were beaten 5–3 after twice being in the lead.

The team held a slender one-goal lead.

She had the lead in a new film.

He took on the lead role after the principal died.

He still looked like a romantic lead.

That girl will be your lead dancer.

The “pensions revolution” is the lead in the Times.

Did you read the lead story in this morning’s Journal?

The newswire will be offering two different leads for certain stories, so editors can pick and choose.

You should see the flashy lead I bought for Spike.

C’mon, c’mon, get the lead out. 2

The lead in old plumbing pipes is poisonous over time.

Shoot ’em full of lead!

I prefer the lead in number 3 pencils.

Lead has been used in roofing, plumbing, ammunition, storage batteries, radiation shields, etc., and its compounds have been used in crystal glass, as an antiknock agent in gasoline, and (formerly) in paints.

The chemical symbol for lead is Pb.

In print, the height of the lead determines how much space there is between two lines of print.

The lead has been rewritten and the headline changed. 3

Verb, intransitive:
It was an old door leading to a better-lit corridor.

Closing the plant will lead to the loss of 300 jobs.

Dallas was fortunate to lead 85–72.

May was leading up to asking me to do her another favor.

The runner leads from first, but was tagged on second.

Verb, transitive:
She emerged leading a bay horse.

Nothing that I have read about the case leads me to the conclusion that anything untoward happened.

They are waiting for an expansion of world trade to lead a recovery.

There will be specific areas or skills in which other nations lead the world.

The veteran jockey was leading the field.

Nichols took the lead in the tournament after the twelfth hole.

Now why would you lead with that ace?

Verb, intransitive:
The news on the radio led with the murder.

Adam led with a left.

She stood up and led her friend to the door.

May has also led Charlie a merry dance.

He’s led a dog’s life, for sure.

Verb, transitive:
It was a fascination for art led him to start a collection of paintings.

The Italian military delegation was led by the Chief of Staff.

The conference included sessions led by people with personal knowledge of the area.

Since the forties he has led his own big bands.

She’s led a completely sheltered life.

Adjective: leadless
Noun: leader
Phrasal Verb
lead off
lead someone on
lead up to
lead out
History of the Word:
1 Old English lǣdan is of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch leiden and German leiten.

2 Old English lēad is of West Germanic origin and related to the Dutch lood meaning lead and the German Lot meaning plummet or solder.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?