September 16, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: lead and led, precede and proceed

Posted in lead & led, precede & proceed at 8:30 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Getting the led out?

I ran across this error in a proposal yesterday, and was reminded that I see this fairly often.

Regarding the word “lead,” pronounced “leed,” and meaning (in the context of our usual use) ‘to guide, to have as its results, to precede…’

The tip is simple:

The past tense of “lead” is “led,” which rhymes with “fed”– NOT “lead” (rhyming with “fed”) and meaning ‘a heavy metallic element.’

This experiment led Madame Curie to the discovery of radium. RIGHT

This experiment lead Madame Curie to the discovery of radium. WRONG

NOTE: Marie Curie’s biography is very interesting. Did you know she won the Nobel Prize twice? She did-once in physics and once in chemistry. And her daughter later won it as well! You can find a brief biography of Madame Curie, here:

Bonus Tip

Incidentally, introductory clauses should be followed by commas (I’m reviewing lots of proposals for October deadlines just now), e.g., “While planning this study, we came across…” “Because of its potential to affect cognitive function, we decided to…” Enough said.

Tip 2: Precede-Proceed

In this tip, I’m not talking about the Precede-Proceed model found in the public health literature, but the commonly confused words. First, it must be said: “procede” is not a word; neither is “preceed.” I hesitated to even mention this because I don’t want them stuck in your head, but I’ve seen “procede’ often enough that it warrants a mention. It’s not a word, guys.

Moving on, “precede” means ‘to go before’ as in:

The grant proposal precedes the grant award.

Pride precedes a fall (with apologies to Proverbs 16:18).

“Proceed” means ‘to go forward’ as in:

After completing the preliminary studies section, I proceeded to the study methods.

I’m going to stop for a cup of coffee before I proceed to the meeting.

If you are not sure of the spelling of a word ending in ‘cede’ or ‘ceed,’ opt for the ‘cede’ spelling and the odds are in your favor that you will be right. Only three words in English end in ‘ceed:’ proceed, exceed, and succeed. All others end in ‘cede’ with one exception; there is one word in English that ends in ‘sede.’



  1. Marnie Pomeroy said,

    THANK YOU! After nearly 77 years of life, I had no idea. You have been most helpful.

  2. Devin Hedge said,

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been using procede the entirety of my life. i am, however, left wondering if a word is actively used by the population with a certain meaning in an active language, how can it not be considered a word? Words are made up all the time. Google, the verb, is now part of the English language lexicon.

  3. Devin Hedge said,

    Follow up: I googled around and realize that I had been splitting hairs in my mind on the use of the word proceed. I have always used the noun “proceeds” correctly:”something that results or accrues” [1]; however, I had, in my mind always felt that “procede” is the correct spelling for the word meaning “to move or go forward or onward, especially after stopping” [1]. I now know the difference. Thank you.

    [1] proceed. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: July 05, 2011).

  4. Anonymous said,

    Dear Supersede,
    Thanks for ignoring the rules. I know, it’s what you do.
    Yours truly,
    English language

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