Meaning of “lead” in the English Dictionary

"lead" in British English

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uk /liːd/ us /liːd/ led, led uk /led/ us

lead verb (CONTROL)

B2 [ I or T ] to control a group of people, a country, or a situation:

I think we've chosen the right person to lead the expedition.
I've asked Gemma to lead the discussion.
Who will be leading the inquiry into the accident?

More examples

  • There was nobody strong enough to lead an effective countervailing force against the dictator.
  • Men have always played an active part in leading worship while women have been confined to more passive roles.
  • Gandhi and Martin Luther King both led campaigns of civil disobedience to try to persuade the authorities to change their policies.
  • The opposition leader led a very forceful attack on the government in parliament this morning.
  • The deputy state fire marshal led the arson investigation.

lead verb (BE WINNING)

B2 [ I or T ] (especially in sports or other competitions) to be in front, to be first, or to be winning:

After 30 minutes the challengers were leading by two goals.
With two laps to go Ngomo led by less than two seconds.
The Lions are leading the Hawks 28–9.

More examples

  • The poll shows that the government is leading by the narrowest of margins.
  • At half-time, United were leading with two goals by Black.
  • She's been leading throughout the race, but it now looks as if she's tiring.
  • The Sonics led by only 2 points at intermission.
  • The champion was leading by two sets to one when rain stopped play.

lead verb (INFLUENCE)

C2 [ T ] to cause someone to do something, especially something bad:

It's worrying that such a prominent politician is so easily led.
He was a weak man, led astray by ambition.

More examples

  • The success of the product led many firms to try to copy them.
  • The seductions of life in a warm climate have led many Britons to live abroad, especially in Spain.
  • It was his instinct for self-preservation that led him to abandon his former friends and transfer his allegiance to the new rulers.
  • He's at that impressionable age when he's very easily led by other children.
  • What led you to make such a drastic decision?

lead verb (SHOW WAY)

B1 [ I ] to show the way to a group of people, animals, vehicles, etc. by going in front of them:

I don't know the way, so you'd better lead.
If you lead in the jeep, we'll follow behind on the horses.

[ T ] To lead a group of moving people or vehicles is to walk or drive in front of them:

The local youth band will lead the parade this weekend.

B1 [ T usually + adv/prep ] to take someone somewhere, by going with them:

She led them down the hall.
The waiter led us to our table.
Our guide led us through the mountains.

B1 [ T usually + adv/prep ] to take hold of a person or animal and take him, her, or it somewhere:

She took the child by the hand and led him upstairs to bed.
He led the horse out of the stable.
lead the way

to show the way by going in front:

You've been there before - why don't you lead the way?

to make more progress than other people in the development of something:

The company has been leading the way in network applications for several years.

More examples

  • They led us into the forest.
  • A group of firefighters led the march.
  • We asked Ralph to lead us through the rough terrain.
  • They led in the car and we followed on bikes.
  • They led us into a small room.

lead verb (DIRECTION)

B2 [ I or T, usually + adv/prep ] (especially of roads, paths, doors, signs, information, etc.) to go in a particular direction or have a particular result, or to allow or cause this:

There's a track that leads directly to the reservoir.
The door leads out onto a wide, shady terrace.
A narrow trail of blood led directly into the cave.
This information led the police to a house near the harbour.

More examples

  • This door leads to the garden.
  • A narrow path led to their cottage.
  • Muddy footprints led to the door.
  • Where does this road lead?
  • The stepping stones lead across the marsh.


uk /liːd/ us /liːd/


B2 uk /liːd/ us [ S ] a winning position during a race or other situation where people are competing:

For the first time in the race Harrison is in the lead.
With a final burst of speed she went/moved into the lead.
After last night's win Johnson has taken (over) the lead in the championship table.
By the end of the day's play Davies had a lead of three points.

More examples

  • The latest opinion poll puts the Democrats in the lead.
  • The French driver has taken the lead in the Paris-Dakar rally.
  • She succeeded in retaining her lead in the second half of the race.
  • Italy had a comfortable three-goal lead over France by half-time.
  • Lewis held onto the lead until the final lap.

lead noun (INFORMATION)

[ C ] a piece of information that allows a discovery to be made or a solution to be found:

A lead from an informer enabled the police to make several arrests.

leadadjective [ before noun ]

uk /liːd/ us /liːd/

leadnoun [ U ]

uk /led/ us /led/

lead noun [ U ] (SUBSTANCE)

[ U ] symbol Pb a chemical element that is a very heavy, soft, dark grey, poisonous metal, used especially in the past on roofs and for pipes and also for protection against radiation:

lead pipes

[ C or U ] (the narrow strip of) coloured material, usually black and made of graphite, in the centre of a pencil

More examples

  • The pipes were made of lead.
  • They stole lead from the roofs.
  • She was suffering from lead poisoning.
  • The window frames were made of lead.
  • Pencils do not contain real lead nowadays.

(Definition of “lead” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"lead" in American English

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us /lid/ past tense and past participle led /led/

lead verb (CONTROL)

[ T ] to manage or control a group of people; to be the person who makes decisions that other people choose to follow or obey:

Her sister is leading an effort to change this law.
I’ve asked George to lead the discussion.

lead verb (SHOW WAY)

[ I/T ] to show the way to someone or something, esp. by going first:

[ T ] She led the children along the path out of the forest.
[ T ] That research group leads the way in the development of new software.
[ T ] Just follow the signs and they will lead you to the exit.

[ I/T ] If something such as a road or sign leads somewhere, it goes toward something else or shows you how to get to a particular place:

[ I ] A flight of narrow stairs leads to the kitchen.

lead verb (CAUSE)

[ I/T ] to prepare the way for something to happen; cause:

[ I ] Ten years of scientific research led to the development of the new drug.
[ T ] Discussions with lawyers led him to believe that the company would not sue him.

lead verb (BE FIRST)

[ I/T ] (esp. in sports or other competitions) to be in front, be first, or be winning:

[ I/T ] With only three minutes to go in the football game, New Orleans led (Dallas), 24 to 21.

lead verb (LIVE)

[ T ] to live a particular type of life:

She retired to Florida and still leads a busy life.


us /lid/

lead noun (ANIMAL)

[ C ] a leash

lead noun (BE FIRST)

[ U ] A lead is also the amount or distance by which someone is in front:

After five games, she was still ahead by a point in the chess tournament, but her lead was shrinking.

lead noun (SHOW WAY)

[ C ] a piece of information that allows a discovery to be made or a solution to be found:

The lead the detectives were following led to several arrests.

leadnoun [ U ]

us /led/

lead noun [ U ] (METAL)

a dense, soft, dark gray metal, used esp. in combination with other metals and in batteries (= devices that produce electricity):

Lead pipes in many older houses have been replaced by copper ones.
fig. The day after running a marathon, my legs felt like lead (= heavy and tired).

lead noun [ U ] (PENCIL)

the black writing material made of graphite, used esp. in the center of a pencil

(Definition of “lead” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

"lead" in Business English

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uk /liːd/ us led /led/ , led /led/

[ T ] to be in charge of a group of people, an organization, or a situation:

They led a management buy-out of the business, raising €10m in capital.
She has been promoted to lead a team that focuses on product development.
He leads the company's worldwide marketing and sales division.

[ I or T ] to be in front, be first, or be winning in a particular situation or area of business:

German, Swiss, and Scandinavian banks lead the internet-based financial services market in Europe.

[ T ] to happen before something else happens:

to influence someone to do sth:

lead sb/sth to do sth Sharply lower profit has led the company to begin an aggressive cost-cutting plan.
lead from the front

to be actively involved in what you are encouraging others to do:

The chairman needs to lead from the front and try to resolve the conflicts.
lead the field/pack/world

to be better or more successful than other people or things:

For ISAs, building societies again led the pack, with 16 of the 20 top-paying providers.
lead the way

to make more progress than other people in the development of something:

lead the way in/on sth The nation's largest state has led the way in higher education and energy conservation.
Experts said women tend to lead the way on issues related to health.

Phrasal verb(s)


uk /liːd/ uk /led/ us

[ S ] a winning position in a situation in which people are competing:

give sb/sth a lead The brand will give the company a commanding lead in the important new sector.
have/increase/maintain a lead (over sb/sth) The group's market share rose to 42.9%, increasing its lead over their arch-rival, which has 37.6%.
Goldman maintained its lead as top manager of negotiated sales.

[ C, usually singular ] an action or example that shows a person or group what to do:

Most competitors will in any case be only too happy to follow the company's lead in raising prices.
take a lead from sb/sth We could take a lead from Finland, where a government programme has dramatically raised the intake of fruit and vegetables.
take a lead on sth The supermarket group took a lead on GM food labelling.

[ C ] MARKETING a piece of information that allows a discovery to be made, customers to be found, or a solution to be found:

Our business meeting gave me lots of good leads.

leadadjective [ before noun ]

uk /liːd/ us

most important among a group of people, products, etc.:

a lead company/product The company's lead product for lung and certain blood cancers is in Phase II trials in humans.
The lead negotiator for the teachers' union said he wasn't surprised by the vote.
play a lead role in sth They have played a lead role in the fast and furious growth of e-commerce.

(Definition of “lead” from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)