I’m gonna give you to the count of 10 to get your ugly, yella, no-good keister off my property before I pump your guts fulla lead!”—Johnny, in Kevin McAllister’s beloved Angels with Filthy Souls
You don’t need mom, dad, or Uncle Frank to explain the difference between using lead and led: we can do that right here. Although they each may mean completely different things, the fact that the two words can be homophones often steers unsuspecting writers into brackish waters—and no, I don’t mean the set of Octomom’s new “movie”.
This word has multiple meanings as both a noun and a verb, so we’ll simplify matters by zeroing in on the most common definitions:
- The verb lead (pronounced lēd) usually carries the meaning of causing progress or motion toward a destination or goal.
Example: The executives hope the new Miller Lite punch top cans will lead people to think that they are drinking something other than fetid orangutan urine.
- As a noun pronounced the same way, lead often signifies setting an example, taking the initiative, or having an advantage.
Example: With his odious That’s My Boy, Adam Sandler finally took the lead from Dane Cook on my list of “Crappiest Comedy Carbuncles.”
- However, when the noun lead is pronounced “led” with a short e sound, we’re talking about a metal or the graphite used in pencils.
Example: Lead kept Superman from seeing Lois Lane’s underwear in the 1970s.
Pronounced led with a short e sound, this word only has one semantic purpose: it functions as the past tense and past participle of the verb lead.
Example: The ads for Taken 2 led me to believe that maybe it was a Funny or Die joke…but, unfortunately, it’s not.
Although this advice was free, you can keep the change, ya filthy animal.