Grammar Tips: The verb “to lead”

by Sheila J Tofflemire on Monday, November 22, 2010, 7:48 am

in Grammar Tips

Improper use of verb "to lead"I see this mistake made often with non-writers, but it always amazes me when so-called professionals in the field of journalism make such a simple mistake. It involves the improper conjugation of the verb “to lead,” meaning “to show the way; to guide in direction; to command or direct; to influence or induce” (etc).

Take note of the screen capture to the right; it accompanies this article in the Mail Online. I’ve underlined the incorrect past tense usage in red. The sentence is made up of a single subject with a compound predicate (a grammar lesson for another day), but take note of the verb tense being used in both parts of the predicate: it’s the past tense. The first past tense verb — “spawned” — is correct; but what is the past tense for the verb “lead” (pronounced leed)?

Let’s conjugate both present and past of “to lead”:

Present tense: I lead, you lead, he leads, we lead, they lead… (all pronounced leed)
Past tense: I led, you led, he led, we led, they led… (all pronounced led)

So, why do so many people make the mistake you see to the right? They confuse the verb “to lead” with the noun “lead” (pronounced led) referring to the heavy metal (as in “lead pipes”). You see, the pronunciation of that particular noun is identical to the pronunciation of the past tense “led” — hence, the mix-up.

How do you ensure you don’t make the same mistake? Well, don’t rely on pronunciation; you need to decide what part of the sentence you need. Remember: If it’s the past tense verb you want, then use “led.” If you’re talking about the heavy metal, then use “lead.”

No quiz necessary this time; I think you’ve all got it now. 😉

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