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Chemical element
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Etymology 1

From Middle English led, leed, from Old English lēad (lead), from Proto-Germanic *laudą (lead), from Proto-Indo-European *lewdʰ- (lead). Cognate with Scots leid, lede (lead), North Frisian lud, luad (lead), West Frisian lead (lead), Dutch lood (lead), German Lot (solder, plummet, sounding line), Swedish lod (lead), Icelandic lóð (a plumb, weight), Irish luaidhe (lead).

Alternative etymology suggests the possibility that Proto-Germanic *laudą may derive from Proto-Celtic *loudom, from Proto-Indo-European *plow(d)- (to flow). If so, then cognate with Latin plumbum (lead). Cognate with German leiten (to lead, manage, conduct). More at flow.


  • enPR: lĕd, IPA(key): /lɛd/
  • (file)
  • Homophone: led


lead (countable and uncountable, plural leads)

  1. (uncountable) A heavy, pliable, inelastic metal element, having a bright, bluish color, but easily tarnished; both malleable and ductile, though with little tenacity. It is easily fusible, forms alloys with other metals, and is an ingredient of solder and type metal. Atomic number 82, symbol Pb (from Latin plumbum).
  2. (countable) A plummet or mass of lead attached to a line, used in sounding depth at sea or (dated) to estimate velocity in knots.
  3. A thin strip of type metal, used to separate lines of type in printing.
  4. (uncountable, typography) Vertical space in advance of a row or between rows of text. Also known as leading.
    This copy has too much lead; I prefer less space between the lines.
  5. Sheets or plates of lead used as a covering for roofs.
  6. (plural leads) A roof covered with lead sheets or terne plates.
  7. (countable) A thin cylinder of black lead or plumbago (graphite) used in pencils.
  8. (slang) Bullets; ammunition.
    They pumped him full of lead.
Derived terms


lead (third-person singular simple present leads, present participle leading, simple past and past participle leaded)

  1. (transitive) To cover, fill, or affect with lead
    continuous firing leads the grooves of a rifle.
  2. (transitive, printing, historical) To place leads between the lines of.
    to lead a page; leaded matter
Usage notes

Note carefully these three senses are verbs derived from the noun referring to the metallic element, and are unrelated to the heteronym defined below under #Etymology 2.


See also

Further reading

  • Lead” in David Barthelmy, Webmineral Mineralogy Database[1], 1997–.
  • lead”, in Mindat.org[2], Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, accessed 29 August 2016.
  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg lead on Wikipedia.

Etymology 2

From Middle English leden, from Old English lǣdan (to lead), from Proto-Germanic *laidijaną (to cause one to go, lead), causative of Proto-Germanic *līþaną (to go), from Proto-Indo-European *leit-, *leith- (to leave, die). Cognate with West Frisian liede (to lead), Dutch leiden (to lead), German leiten (to lead), Danish and Norwegian Bokmål lede (to lead), Norwegian Nynorsk leia (to lead), Swedish leda (to lead). Related to Old English līþan (to go, travel).


  • enPR: lēd, IPA(key): /liːd/
  • (file)
  • Homophones: leed, lede


lead (third-person singular simple present leads, present participle leading, simple past and past participle led)

  1. (heading, transitive) To guide or conduct.
    1. To guide or conduct with the hand, or by means of some physical contact connection.
      a father leads a child;  a jockey leads a horse with a halter;  a dog leads a blind man
      • John Wycliffe on Matthew 15:14
        If a blind man lead a blind man, both fall down in the ditch.
      • Luke 4:29
        They thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill.
      • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
        In thy right hand lead with thee / The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty.
    2. To guide or conduct in a certain course, or to a certain place or end, by making the way known; to show the way, especially by going with or going in advance of, to lead a pupil; to guide somebody somewhere or to bring somebody somewhere by means of instructions.
      The guide was able to lead the tourists through the jungle safely.
      • Exodus 13:21
        The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way.
      • Psalms 23:2
        He leadeth me beside the still waters.
      • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
        This thought might lead me through the world’s vain mask. Content, though blind, had I no better guide.
      • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 1, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
        I stumbled along through the young pines and huckleberry bushes. Pretty soon I struck into a sort of path that, I cal'lated, might lead to the road I was hunting for. It twisted and turned, and, the first thing I knew, made a sudden bend around a bunch of bayberry scrub and opened out into a big clear space like a lawn.
    3. (figuratively): To direct; to counsel; to instruct
      A good teacher should lead their students to the right answer.
    4. To conduct or direct with authority; to have direction or charge of; to command, especially a military or business unit.
      to lead a political party
      to lead the search team
      • (Can we date this quote?) Robert South
        Christ took not upon him flesh and blood that he might conquer and rule nations, lead armies, or possess places.
    5. To guide or conduct oneself in, through, or along (a certain course); hence, to proceed in the way of; to follow the path or course of; to pass; to spend. Also, to cause (one) to proceed or follow in (a certain course).
      The evidence leads me to believe he is guilty.
  2. (intransitive) To guide or conduct, as by accompanying, going before, showing, influencing, directing with authority, etc.; to have precedence or preeminence; to be first or chief; — used in most of the senses of the transitive verb.
  3. (heading) To begin, to be ahead.
    1. (transitive) To go or to be in advance of; to precede; hence, to be foremost or chief among.
      the big sloop led the fleet of yachts;  the Guards led the attack;  Demosthenes leads the orators of all ages
      • 1600, Edward Fairfax, The Jerusalem Delivered of Tasso
        As Hesperus, that leads the sun his way.
      • (Can we date this quote?) Leigh Hunt
        And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.
      • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 4, in The Celebrity:
        “Well,” I answered, at first with uncertainty, then with inspiration, “he would do splendidly to lead your cotillon, if you think of having one.” ¶ “So you do not dance, Mr. Crocker?” ¶ I was somewhat set back by her perspicuity.
    2. (intransitive) To lead off or out, to go first; to begin.
    3. (intransitive) To be more advanced in technology or business than others.
    4. (heading, sports)
      1. (transitive, card games, dominoes) To begin a game, round, or trick, with
        to lead trumps
        He led the ace of spades.
      2. (intransitive) To be ahead of others, e.g., in a race.
      3. (intransitive) To have the highest interim score in a game.
      4. (baseball) To step off base and move towards the next base.
        The batter always leads off base.
      5. (shooting) To aim in front of a moving target, in order that the shot may hit the target as it passes.
      6. (transitive, climbing) Lead climb.
  4. (transitive) To draw or direct by influence, whether good or bad; to prevail on; to induce; to entice; to allure
    to lead someone to a righteous cause
    • 1649, King Charles I of England, Eikon Basilike
      He was driven by the necessities of the times, more than led by his own disposition, to any rigor of actions.
    • 2 Timothy 3:6.
      Silly women, laden with sins, led away by divers lusts.
    • 2013 June 28, Joris Luyendijk, “Our banks are out of control”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 3, page 21:
      Seeing the British establishment struggle with the financial sector is like watching an alcoholic […].  Until 2008 there was denial over what finance had become. When a series of bank failures made this impossible, there was widespread anger, leading to the public humiliation of symbolic figures.
  5. (intransitive) To tend or reach in a certain direction, or to a certain place.
    the path leads to the mill;  gambling leads to other vices
    • ca. 1590, Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona, V-ii
      The mountain-foot that leads towards Mantua.
    • 2013 August 10, “Can China clean up fast enough?”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8848:
      All this has led to an explosion of protest across China, including among a middle class that has discovered nimbyism. That worries the government, which fears that environmental activism could become the foundation for more general political opposition. It is therefore dealing with pollution in two ways—suppression and mitigation.
  6. To produce (with to).
    The shock led to a change in his behaviour.
    • 2013 August 3, “Yesterday’s fuel”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8847:
      The dawn of the oil age was fairly recent. Although the stuff was used to waterproof boats in the Middle East 6,000 years ago, extracting it in earnest began only in 1859 after an oil strike in Pennsylvania. [] It was used to make kerosene, the main fuel for artificial lighting after overfishing led to a shortage of whale blubber. Other liquids produced in the refining process, too unstable or smoky for lamplight, were burned or dumped.
  7. Misspelling of led.
Derived terms


lead (countable and uncountable, plural leads)

  1. (uncountable) The act of leading or conducting; guidance; direction, course
    to take the lead
    to be under the lead of another
    • At the time I speak of, and having a momentary lead, [] I am sure I did my country important service. — Edmund Burke
  2. (uncountable) Precedence; advance position; also, the measure of precedence; the state of being ahead in a race; the highest score in a game in an incomplete game.
    the white horse had the lead.
    to be in the lead
    She lost the lead.
    Smith managed to extend her lead over the second place to half a second.
    • 2010 December 28, Kevin Darlin, “West Brom 1 - 3 Blackburn”, in BBC[3]:
      Blackburn then regained the lead with a simplest of set-piece goals
  3. (Britain, countable) An insulated metallic wire for electrical devices and equipment.
  4. (baseball) The situation where a runner steps away from a base while waiting for the pitch to be thrown.
    The runner took his lead from first.
  5. (uncountable, card games, dominoes) The act or right of playing first in a game or round; the card suit, or piece, so played
    your partner has the lead
  6. (acting) The main role in a play or film; the lead role.
  7. (acting) The actor who plays the main role; lead actor.
  8. (countable) A channel of open water in an ice field.
  9. (countable, mining) A lode.
  10. (nautical) The course of a rope from end to end.
  11. A rope, leather strap, or similar device with which to lead an animal; a leash
  12. In a steam engine, the width of port opening which is uncovered by the valve, for the admission or release of steam, at the instant when the piston is at end of its stroke.
    • Usage note: When used alone it means outside lead, or lead for the admission of steam. Inside lead refers to the release or exhaust.
  13. Charging lead. (Can we add an example for this sense?)
  14. (civil engineering) The distance of haul, as from a cutting to an embankment.
  15. (horology) The action of a tooth, such as a tooth of a wheel, in impelling another tooth or a pallet.
  16. Hypothesis that has not been pursued
    The investigation stalled when all leads turned out to be dead ends.
  17. Information obtained by a detective or police officer that allows him or her to discover further details about a crime or incident.
    The police have a couple of leads they will follow to solve the case.
  18. (marketing) Potential opportunity for a sale or transaction, a potential customer.
    Joe is a great addition to our sales team, he has numerous leads in the paper industry.
  19. Information obtained by a news reporter about an issue or subject that allows him or her to discover more details.
  20. (curling) The player who throws the first two rocks for a team.
  21. (newspapers) A teaser; a lead-in; the start of a newspaper column, telling who, what, when, where, why and how. (Sometimes spelled as lede for this usage to avoid ambiguity.)
  22. An important news story that appears on the front page of a newspaper or at the beginning of a news broadcast
  23. (engineering) The axial distance a screw thread travels in one revolution. It is equal to the pitch times the number of starts.
  24. (music) In a barbershop quartet, the person who sings the melody, usually the second tenor
  25. (music) The announcement by one voice part of a theme to be repeated by the other parts.
  26. (music) A mark or a short passage in one voice part, as of a canon, serving as a cue for the entrance of others.
  27. (engineering) The excess above a right angle in the angle between two consecutive cranks, as of a compound engine, on the same shaft.
  28. (electrical) The angle between the line joining the brushes of a continuous-current dynamo and the diameter symmetrical between the poles.
  29. (electrical) The advance of the current phase in an alternating circuit beyond that of the electromotive force producing it.
Usage notes

Note that these noun (attributive) uses are all derived from the verb, not the chemical element in #Etymology 1.

Derived terms


lead (not comparable)

  1. (not comparable) Foremost.
    The contestants are all tied; no one has the lead position.
    • 2006, Ronald Mak, The Martian Principles for Successful Enterprise Systems
      For the first time ever, the senior architect and lead developer for a key enterprise system on NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover mission shares the secrets to one of the most difficult technology tasks []
  2. (music) main, principal
    the lead guitarist
    lead trumpet
    • 2017 August 25, "Arrest threat as Yingluck Shinawatra misses verdict", in aljazeera.com, Al Jazeera:
      Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's ex-prime minister, has missed a verdict in a negligence trial that could have seen her jailed, prompting the Supreme Court to say it will issue an arrest warrant fearing she is a flight risk, according to the lead judge in the case.

Etymology 3



  1. Misspelling of led.


  • lead in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913




le- +‎ ad


  • IPA(key): [ˈlɛɒd]
  • Hyphenation: le‧ad



  1. (transitive) to pass down, hand down, turn in, drop off
  2. (transitive) to lose weight, usually as a result of some kind of training or exercise


Derived terms

  • leadás


Old English


From Proto-Germanic *laudą.


  • IPA(key): /læːɑ̯d/, [læːɑ̯d]


lēad n

  1. lead