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English Lesson 14: Correct Use of Lead and Led

June 14th, 2008

lead-or-be-led.jpgDuring the past week, I have encountered three separate instances of lead vs. led usage errors. Normally this would not be Earth-shattering news, but what surprised me was that in each instance, the error was contained in a public press release that was presumably vetted by professional proofreaders or copyeditors before being published. Moreover, the organizations in question — one of which was a well-known affiliate network –were large and well-established enough to be expected to follow standard English guidelines when it comes to public correspondence.

Naturally, seeing the prevalence of these errors has led (not lead) me to our next English lesson. First I will deal with the different meanings of lead:

As a verb, pronounced LEED:

  • To show the way; guide, conduct, direct, steer, or escort.
  • To proceed on a course or for a certain distance, often used in reference to roads, pathways, and the like; extend, reach, go on.
  • To be in a position of authority, take command of something, or play an executive role of some sort.
  • To pass through in a certain way, usually used in reference to a person’s life.
  • To begin with some type of introduction or preamble, often used in reference to written works; introduce, precede, preface.

As a noun, pronounced LEED:

  • Someone who guides or shows the way; director, conductor, pilot, escort.
  • A piece of information that provides a clue during an investigation, usually used in reference to detective or police work.
  • The main character or performer in a theatrical production; protagonist, principal, star.
  • In marketing, a prospective customer; someone who has shown an interest in a particular product or service by filling out a survey or an opt-in form.
  • In journalism, a story of primary importance that is usually emphasized with a strong headline and placed near the beginning of a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical.
  • In electronics, the name for an electrical connection between two elements of a circuit; usually this is a wire.

As a noun, pronounced LED:

  • An elemental metal that is soft, malleable, ductile, bluish-white, and relatively dense; mostly extracted from an ore called galena; chemical symbol Pb; used in soldering, radiation shielding, ammunition, paints, weights, containers or pipes carrying corrosive substances, and various other industrial applications.
  • A weight made of the metal lead that is used to make soundings.
  • Bullets or ammunition used with firearms; shot.
  • A graphite-based composition that is used as the main writing substance in pencils.

As a verb, pronounced LED:

  • To weigh down, cover, line, or fill with the metal lead.
  • To treat with the metal lead or a lead-based compound, as in leaded gasoline or leaded paint.

By contrast, the meaning of led is pretty simple; it is used as the past tense and past participle form of the verb lead. Just to clear up any possible confusion, there is also an acronym LED which stands for Light Emitting Diode, but this is always written in all caps and has nothing to do with the regular word led.

Now we can look at some examples of incorrect usage found throughout the Internet and make the necessary corrections:

Incorrect: I am pleased to announce that beginning today, LinkShare will be lead by Jonathan Levine. — John J-H Kim,
Chairman of LinkShare Corporation

Correct: I am pleased to announce that beginning today, LinkShare will be led by Jonathan Levine.

Incorrect: So now the global warming myth actually has lead to the chaos we are now enduring with energy and food prices. — John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel

Correct: So now the global warming myth actually has led to the chaos we are now enduring with energy and food prices.

Incorrect: This option should led to special minima which is a curse in the ears of the Dutch. — J. J. M. van Dijk, Criminal Law in Action: An Overview of Current Issues in Western Societies

Correct: This option should lead to special minima, which is a curse in the ears of the Dutch.

Incorrect: Wolf: Food crisis should led to reform of global agriculture sector — Press Summary headline from OpenEurope.org.uk, 30 April 2008

Correct: Wolf: Food crisis should lead to reform of global agriculture sector

Quick summary: If you are writing something and are not sure which spelling to use, first determine whether you’re referring to the past tense or past participle of the verb lead. If you are, use led. Otherwise use lead.

One Response to “English Lesson 14: Correct Use of Lead and Led”

  1. comment number 1 by: anon.

    Back many years ago, until the early 1900s, the past tense of “lead” was given as “lead” instead of “led”. This was present in books written in English, as opposed to “American”.

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