The English language is beautiful and complex. It is an instrument that can be played to produce the equivalent of everything from Bach’s B Minor Mass to rap. With talent, maestros of the art of writing can thrill you, make you cry, horrify you, or make you laugh.
You might think that part of writing is to follow the rules. Unfortunately, while there certainly are rules in English, there are also exceptions to the rules. For example, the old rule of i before e except after c does not apply to weird and receive.
Rules are bent in intriguing ways, especially now when new words are popping up everywhere. “I will text you.” Text is a noun. Yet here it is used as a verb and is perfectly acceptable.
One of the stumbling blocks for people learning English is the problem with homophones, words that sound alike, but are written differently and have different meanings. Fate, meaning destiny, and fete, meaning party, are two such words. You don’t want to get them mixed up. To say nothing of there, their, and they’re.
The only way to learn how to use these exceptions to the rules is to memorize them. There is no easy way. If you were lucky, your teachers from first grade on drilled these rules and their exceptions into your head ceaselessly. You went over them again and again until picking the right word became instinctual or you ran out of the room screaming. If you weren’t lucky, you have to use Grammarly.
The led vs lead puzzle is even more complicated. Led and lead are homophones when lead is a noun which means the dull gray metal. When lead is a verb meaning to bring something or someone forward into another place, the word is pronounced LEED. And to confuse things further, led is the past tense of lead.
The Difference Between Led and Lead
Definition of LED
Led is pronounced /led/, rhymes with bed.
‘Led’ is the past tense of lead.
LED is an abbreviation of light-emitting diode, a light source. Pronounced L-E-D (/ˌel.iːˈdiː/).
Definition of Lead
Lead is pronounced /leed/, rhyming with reed.
‘Lead’ can mean a clue, an avenue of investigation. ‘The police followed the lead.’
‘Lead’ can mean the main part in a play or movie. ‘He played the romantic lead.’
‘Lead’ means the position ahead of all the others. ‘The winning horse was in the lead from the start.’
‘Lead’ means to bring something or someone forward. ‘I will lead him by the hand.’
‘Lead’ means to open up. ‘All the doors will lead to the pool.’
Lead – pronounced led, rhymes with bed.
‘Lead’ means a dull, gray, dense metal used for soldering, in glass manufacture, roofing, and ammunition. It is an element, atomic symbol Pb, atomic number 82. ‘Lead paint is no longer available.’
‘Lead’ is the name given to the graphite in a pencil which leaves a mark on the paper.
‘Pencils were originally made with lead until graphite was introduced in 1565.’
Led vs. Lead: What Are the Differences?
‘They lead horses to the field every day.’ (present tense – pronounced LEED as in reed)
‘They led horses to the field yesterday.’ (past tense – pronounced LED as in bed)
‘The lead pipes lead to the aqueduct.'(pronounced LED as in bed) – (present tense – pronounced LEED as in reed)
‘The lead pipes led to the aqueduct.’ (pronounced LED as in bed) – (past tense – pronounced LED as in bed)
In the second sentence of Example 2 above, lead and led are pronounced identically but here there is a difference between led and lead. They are pronounced the same but spelled differently and they have different meanings.
In addition, another complication is the word read. The present tense of the verb read is read, pronounced REED. The past tense is read, pronounced RED. For some reason, people tend to remember these homographs (words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings and often different pronunciations.) This example further confuses people struggling with the led versus lead problem.
‘Every night their parents read the children a story.’ This is present tense and is pronounced REED.
‘Last night their parents read the children a story.’ This is past tense and is pronounced RED.
How to Remember the Difference: Led vs. Lead
The only two versions of led versus lead that are pronounced to rhyme with bed are led, past tense of lead, and the dull gray metal.
Pronouncing ‘led’ is easy. It looks like red or bed so it’s pronounced like red or bed. She led him to the red bed.
The tricky one is ‘lead’, the metal. Just remember that lEAd is very, very hEAvy. Lead is heavy. They each have an ea in the words. The ea is pronounced much the same. Try to remember heavy lead. All other words spelled lead are pronounced LEED.
The other hint to remember is that there is only one word spelled led. (LED doesn’t count. It is pronounced L-E-D.)) It is always the past tense of lead.
It’s not hard. Just say to yourself every time you need to use the word lead in the past tense, ‘Only led is the past tense. Only led is the past tense.” The mantra will get you through that conundrum easily.
And then there are the homophones too, to, and two.