Red Pen Diaries: Getting the Lead Out

Red Pen Diaries: Advice and Observations on Writing and the English LanguageOne usage error I often see is "lead" used in place of "led."

Incorrect: "He lead them down the garden path."

Correct: "He led them down the garden path."

The confusion arises from the fact that the past tense (and past participle) of the verb "lead" (say: leed) is pronounced the same as the noun "lead" (say: led).

When you are speaking of the soft, heavy metal, it is spelled "lead" but pronounced as "led."

When you are speaking of the past action of leading, it is spelled "led" and pronounced the same.

(Legendary rock bands notwithstanding, a dirigible made of heavy metal actually would be a "lead zeppelin" or even a "leaden zeppelin.")

More examples:

"The Detroit Lions led the game in the first half, but now the Little Sisters of the Poor have the lead."

"To judge by your boss's face, I'd say that proposal went over like a lead balloon."

Don't be led astray by this common mistake!