verb (1)
\ ˈlēd How to pronounce lead (audio) \
led\ ˈled How to pronounce lead (audio) \; leading

Definition of lead

 (Entry 1 of 5)

transitive verb

1a : to guide on a way especially by going in advance led the officers to his hiding place
b : to direct on a course or in a direction a road leading the traveler to the heart of the city
c : to serve as a channel for a pipe leads water to the house
2 : to go through : live lead a quiet life
3a(1) : to direct the operations, activity, or performance of lead an orchestra
(2) : to have charge of lead a campaign
(3) : to suggest to (a witness) the answer desired by asking leading questions counsel is leading this witness, putting words in her mouth— Erle Stanley Gardner
b(1) : to go at the head of lead a parade
(2) : to be first in or among lead the league
(3) : to have a margin over led his opponent
4 : to bring to some conclusion or condition led to believe otherwise
5 : to begin play with lead trumps
6a : to aim in front of (a moving object) lead a duck
b : to pass a ball or puck just in front of (a moving teammate)

intransitive verb

1a : to guide someone or something along a way You lead and we'll follow.
b : to lie, run, or open in a specified place or direction path leads uphill
c : to guide a dance partner through the steps of a dance
2a : to be first This state leads in population.
b(1) : begin, open will lead off with a Christmas story— Richard Bissell
(2) : to play the first card of a trick, round, or game
3 : to tend toward or have a result study leading to a degree
4 : to direct the first of a series of blows at an opponent in boxing
lead one down the garden path or less commonly lead one up the garden path
: hoodwink, deceive I'd rather he be disappointed with the truth rather than lead him down the garden path— Harold Robbins


noun (1)
\ ˈlēd How to pronounce lead (audio) \

Definition of lead (Entry 2 of 5)

1a(1) : leadership look to the president for a unifying lead— D. W. Brogan
(2) : example, precedent followed the lead of the majority leader in voting
b(1) : position at the front : vanguard The runner from Kenya was in the lead for most of the race.
(2) : initiative took the lead in fighting the measure
(3) : the act or privilege of playing first in a card game Your partner has the lead. also : the card or suit played first His lead was the ace.
c : a margin or measure of advantage or superiority or position in advance enjoys a good lead over all competitors
2 : one that leads: such as
b : a channel of water especially through a field of ice
c : indication, clue The detectives had a few leads to follow.
d : a principal role in a dramatic production She was the romantic lead in the movie. also : one who plays such a role
e : leash sense 1 train a dog to walk on a lead
f(1) : an introductory section of a news story : lede edit the lead to grab the reader's attention
(2) : a news story of chief importance The story of his arrest was the lead in newspapers across the country.
3 : an insulated electrical conductor connected to an electrical device
4 : the course of a rope from end to end
5 : the amount of axial (see axial sense 2a) advance of a point accompanying a complete turn of a thread (as of a screw or worm)
6 : a position taken by a base runner off a base toward the next The runner on first took a big lead.
7 : the first punch of a series or an exchange of punches in boxing


\ ˈlēd How to pronounce lead (audio) \

Definition of lead (Entry 3 of 5)

: acting or serving as a lead (see lead entry 2) or leader a lead article


noun (2), often attributive
\ ˈled How to pronounce lead (audio) \

Definition of lead (Entry 4 of 5)

1 : a soft, heavy, metallic element with atomic number 82 found mostly in combination and used especially in alloys, batteries, and shields against sound, vibration, or radiation — see Chemical Elements Table
2a : a plummet for sounding at sea
b leads plural, British : a usually flat lead roof
c leads plural : lead framing for panes in windows
d : a thin strip of metal used to separate lines of type in printing
3a : a thin stick of marking substance (such as graphite) in or for a pencil


verb (2)
\ ˈled How to pronounce lead (audio) \
leaded; leading; leads

Definition of lead (Entry 5 of 5)

transitive verb

1 : to cover, line, or weight with lead (see lead entry 4)
2 : to fix (window glass) in position with leads
3 : to put space between the lines of (typeset matter)
4 : to treat or mix with lead or a lead compound leaded gasoline

Choose the Right Synonym for lead

Verb (1)

guide, lead, steer, pilot, engineer mean to direct in a course or show the way to be followed. guide implies intimate knowledge of the way and of all its difficulties and dangers. guided the scouts through the cave lead implies showing the way and often keeping those that follow under control and in order. led his team to victory steer implies an ability to keep to a course and stresses the capacity of maneuvering correctly. steered the ship through a narrow channel pilot suggests guidance over a dangerous or complicated course. piloted the bill through the Senate engineer implies finding ways to avoid or overcome difficulties in achieving an end or carrying out a plan. engineered his son's election to the governorship

When to Use Lead or Led

There is some persistent confusion about lead and led. Or, we should say, there is confusion about the leads and led. Lead is both a noun and a verb, as most people know. There are several unrelated nouns spelled lead: one most commonly refers to a metal (as in, "The paint was made with lead"), and the other most commonly refers to a position of advantage (as in, "Our team was in the lead"). The verb lead is pronounced /LEED/, with a long e; the noun that refers to a position or advantage is also pronounced /LEED/, with a long e; the noun that refers to the metal, however, is pronounced /LED/, with a short e. To this moderately convoluted situation, add the past tense and past participle of the verb lead, which is led and pronounced like the metal noun lead with a short e. The homophonic confusion leads to homographic confusion, and you will therefore occasionally see lead in constructions where led is called for (as in, “She lead the ducklings to safety” instead of “She led the ducklings to safety”). The correct past and past participle of lead is spelled led. If you aren’t sure whether to use led or lead as the verb in your sentence, try reading it aloud to yourself. If the verb is pronounced /LED/, use led.

Examples of lead in a Sentence

Adjective the lead diplomat is responsible for making policy for the entire embassy

First Known Use of lead

Verb (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

Noun (1)

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


1828, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for lead

Verb (1), Noun (1), and Adjective

Middle English leden, from Old English lǣdan; akin to Old High German leiten to lead, Old English līthan to go

Noun (2) and Verb (2)

Middle English leed, from Old English lēad; akin to Middle High German lōt lead

Learn More About lead

Time Traveler for lead

Time Traveler

The first known use of lead was before the 12th century

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Dictionary Entries Near lead



lead acetate

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Cite this Entry

“Lead.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lead. Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for lead


\ ˈlēd How to pronounce lead (audio) \
led\ ˈled \; leading

Kids Definition of lead

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : to guide on a way often by going ahead You lead and we will follow.
2 : to be at the head or front part of She led the parade.
3 : to direct or guide the actions of lead an orchestra
4 : to be best, first, or ahead The champs led by 15 points.
5 : to go through : live They lead a happy life.
6 : to reach or go in a certain direction This road leads to town.



Kids Definition of lead (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : position at the front He took the lead.
2 : the amount or distance that a person or thing is ahead The team had a ten point lead.
3 : the main role in a movie or play
4 : something serving as an indication or clue Police followed their only lead.
5 : the first part of a news story


\ ˈled How to pronounce lead (audio) \

Kids Definition of lead (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : a heavy soft gray metallic element that is easily bent and shaped
2 : a long thin piece of graphite used in pencils
3 : ammunition a shower of lead


\ ˈlēd How to pronounce lead (audio) \

Medical Definition of lead

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a flexible or solid insulated conductor connected to or leading out from an electrical device (as an electroencephalograph)


noun, often attributive
\ ˈled How to pronounce lead (audio) \

Medical Definition of lead (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a heavy soft malleable ductile plastic but inelastic bluish white metallic element found mostly in combination and used especially in pipes, cable sheaths, batteries, solder, and shields against radioactivity symbol Pb — see Chemical Elements Table


transitive verb
led; leading

Legal Definition of lead

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to suggest the desired answer to (a witness) by asking leading questions



Legal Definition of lead (Entry 2 of 2)

: something serving as a tip, indication, or clue the police have only one lead in the murder investigation

More from Merriam-Webster on lead

Nglish: Translation of lead for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of lead for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about lead


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