Pedantics #7

Something has been bugging me lately. It’s the sort of thing that would bug me if I came across it once in a blue moon, but recently I’ve been coming across it a lot.

A lot.

I’m seeing it in mundane online comments, I’m seeing it in emails, I’m seeing it in articles which have no excuse for not grasping basic English. And it’s getting on my nerves.

The past tense of the verb ‘lead’ is ‘led’. ‘He leads us into the tangled woods. He led us the same way yesterday.’

Right? With me so far?

The verb ‘led’ is a homophone of ‘lead’, the metallic element of toxic paint and x-ray shielding fame. They sound the same. But ‘lead’, when pronounced in its noun, metallic element form, is NOT the past tense of ‘lead’, the verb.

You can see where confusion begins to arise here. Not only do we have a pair of homophones mixing people up, we also have a pair of homonyms. Homonyms look identical but have different pronunciations. Like ‘lead’ (the Superman-confounding noun) and ‘lead’ (the present tense of the verb ‘to guide’).

[We’ll leave aside the fact that ‘lead’ also has a different noun definition which is pronounced the same way as the verb (and is, in fact, derived from it), because seriously, English can be a pain in the arse sometimes.]

‘Led’ and ‘lead’ are homophones. They sound the same. Their meanings are completely different.

‘Lead’ and ‘lead’ are homonyms. They look the same. But they’re pronounced differently, and again, their meanings are completely different.

But no matter how much confusion exists between lead, led, and lead, one thing is absolute: ‘led’ is only ever a verb. A past tense verb. And it keeps getting left out, discarded like leftover alphabet soup. Poor little ‘led’ is an actual word, and it deserves to be used. ‘Lead’ is present tense. ‘Lead’ can never be its past tense.

Now that I’ve led you into this twisty word jungle, I suppose I’d better lead you out.

‘Lead’ (pronounced ‘leed’) – verb, ‘to guide’.

‘Led’ – past tense verb, ‘guided’.

‘Lead’ (pronounced ‘led’) – noun, ‘heavy grey metal, element number 82 in the Periodic Table – symbol Pb.’

See? Clear as lead mud.


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