Column: “Lead” and “led”

Question: “Dear Jordan, I look forward to your column in The Southside Times every week. I especially enjoy your sense of humor and the fact that you don’t take grammar too seriously. Please do address the difference between the homonyms ‘lead’ and ‘led.’ They are used incorrectly more and more often, as you did in your May 7 – 13 column. You are so rarely, if ever, inaccurate, I forgive you!” – (Petra Ritchie)

Answer: You know, I put those mistakes in my columns just so clever readers like you will catch them and give me more fodder to write about.

(No, not really. Great catch, Petra!)

The mistake at hand here is mixing up the proper past tense of the verb “lead” – meaning to guide, especially by going in advance – with the element lead (which, incidentally, has the best Latin name: plumbum).

“Lead” is an irregular verb, so its past tense isn’t “leaded,” but “led.” The trick isn’t in remembering that it’s irregular, though, but how it’s irregular, because it conjugates differently than “read,” which is spelled the same in the past tense, but pronounced differently.

Unfortunately, Word’s little squiggly lines aren’t much help here, because “leaded” is a word in its own right meaning “covered, weighted with or containing lead.” Why they didn’t go with “plumbumed,” I’ll never know.

So there’s no trick on this one – you’ve just got to remember that “lead” becomes “led” in the past tense. Even your friendly neighborhood Grammar Guy needs a refresher on it from time to time, though, so you can rest easy knowing we’re all in this together.