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What’s the Past Tense of Lead?

The past tense of the transitive verb 'to lead', is 'led' (rhymed with fed).

Last updated on February 20th, 2024 at 09:38 am

The verb lead/led in text conversation.
Lead/led in text conversation.

Carole King said it best, “If you lead, I will follow“. But what if you want to refer to “lead” in the past tense? Is it lead or led?

What’s the past tense of “lead”?

The verb lead (rhymes with breed), describes when we “show someone the way or to make them go in the right direction”. Lead only has one past tense and past participle form:

  • The past tense of lead is led (rhymes with fed).

  • Led is the only past tense and past participial form of lead.

  • Lead is an irregular verb since its past tense does not attach “ed”; instead it omits the vowel “a” to switch to past tense.

Sentences with “lead” present tenseSentences with “led” past tense
If you lead, I’ll follow.She led the horse back into the stable.
Lead vs. led

The word lead also has a noun form, this refers to the chemical element, or a “heavy, soft grey metal, used especially in the past for water pipes or to cover roofs”. The pronunciation of lead as a metal is the same as the past tense of the verb lead, i.e., led.

Verb forms of lead

simpleI leadI ledI will lead
continuousI am leadingI was leadingI will be leading
perfectI have ledI had ledI will have led
perfect continuousI have been leadingI had been leadingI will have been leading
Tenses of ‘lead‘.

Lead is in the present tense: They lead a successful marketing campaign.

Leads is third-person present singular: He leads the team with confidence and determination.

Will lead is future tense: She will lead the team to the championship next year.

Leading is the present participle: The team is leading the competition with a significant margin.

Led is the simple past: She led the project to completion ahead of schedule.

Led is also the past participle form of the verb: The group has been led by a visionary leader for many years.

What does lead mean?  

Merriam-Webster defines the verb lead as, “to guide on a way especially by going in advance: led the officers to his hiding place”. Also, “to direct on a course or in a direction: a road leading the traveler to the heart of the city.”

In simpler words, to lead is to guide someone or something somewhere, either to a fixed point or position in the world: he led the company to a position of great success and reverence.  

Types of irregular verbs

Irregular verbs come in three main forms: (1) All three verb forms are the same (2)  Two forms are the same (3) All three differ. The base verb ‘lead‘ is different from its past tense ‘led‘, this means that there are two forms of the lead, i.e., lead and led. Lead therefore is part of the second group of irregular verb forms where 2/3 tenses are the same:

base verbpast tensepast participle
Irregular verbs with one past tense.

Is “lead” a transitive or intransitive verb?

What are transitive verbs? Verbs that are transitive have action receivers and use sentence objects. Intransitive verbs do not have a receiver or sentence object. To lead is to bring someone or something somewhere (whether figurative or literal). This makes lead transitive. A way to think about it is that the action transitions from the actor to a receiver (i.e., the sentence object).

Transitive: Timmy kicks the ball.

Intransitive: Sarah is sleeping.

Examples of “lead” (present tense) in sentences

No road of flowers lead to glory.

All roads lead to Rome.

That game puts her back into the lead.

He took the horse by the lead and walked with it into the barn.

We were struggling to stay in the lead.

Examples of the past tense “led” in sentences

I led the tour through the museum.

We were led to believe there would be snacks.

The road led to a massive forest.

Her chosen course of study led to a degree in forensics.

The bread crumbs led the children back to their home.

Synonyms of lead

  • steer
  • guide
  • pilot
  • usher
  • direct
  • manage
  • watch over
  • show the way
  • point the way
  • shepherd

Phrases with “lead” / “led”

you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink you can provide an opportunity but you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do
all roads lead to Rome there are a number of ways of accomplishing the same thing
to lead a dog’s life a life unpleasant and difficult
to lead a charmed life to live a life that is pleasant and fortunate
to go down like a lead balloonas in, a balloon filled with the metal lead. In other words, for something to be poorly received/taken
get the lead out of one’s feet to do something quicker

Origin of the word lead 

From etymology online on lead (v.):

To guide,” Old English lædan (transitive) “cause to go with oneself; march at the head of, go before as a guide, accompany and show the way; carry on; sprout forth, bring forth; pass (one’s life),” causative of liðan “to travel,” from Proto-Germanic *laidjanan.

Learn more about verbs


  1. Merriam-Webster, Definition of lead.
  2. Etymology online, Origin of lead.
  3., Synonyms of lead.
  4., Sentence object.


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