Our English language is full of words that sound the same but have different meanings, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, and just to confuse us even more, words that sound and are spelled the same but serve distinctly different purposes. Oh my! My heart goes out to people learning English as a second language.
Two such words that often confuse people are lead and led.
Lead, when sounding like need, can be a verb (He leads the chorus.) or a noun (He is the lead in the play.) or an adjective (He is the lead actor in the play.).
When lead sounds like dead, it’s a noun meaning a soft gray metallic element or the innards of a pencil (The pencil lead was as heavy as lead.)
Enter the complication, led that sounds like dead. LED can be spelled out as in L-E-D lights, or it can serve as the past tense or past participle of lead that rhymes with need (He led the choir.). Perfectly logical, right?
A quick way to remember if you should use led or lead as the past tense comes from Brian A. Klems, online community editor for Writer’s Digest magazine. Brian says if you can replace the word in the sentence with guided or directed, the correct word to use is led, (With feet as heavy as lead, the lead actor led the dance troupe.).