I have a question about the usages of the verb "lead". According to web usages, one sense of the verb "lead" is similar to the verb "cause". So that the following two sentences:

  1. The recession caused some investors to back off on buying stocks.
  2. The recession led some investors to back off on buying stocks.

, mean the same thing.

Does that mean the following:

  1. Erosion caused the building to collapse.
  2. Erosion led the building to collapse.

are also the same? I do feel that sentence 4, which uses "led", is a little bit off compared to sentence 3, which uses "cause". What do native speakers think?

  • Please cite your sources. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 4:37
  • 1
    @meatie - How does your dictionary define to lead and to cause? What dictionary did you consult before asking this question? At Dictionary.com, what is the 3rd definition of the verb to lead? Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 5:05
  • @P.E.Dant Definition 3 of this dictionary reads: "to influence or induce; cause". So, the usage in sentence 4 is okay?
    – meatie
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 7:36
  • 2
    @meatie - Do you have reason to believe that your dictionary provides false definitions? Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 7:37

3 Answers 3


There is a subtle difference between "caused" and that version of "lead/led". The first is a direct result:

The driver caused the accident.

The second may not be as direct - it is on the path to the final outcome, but not the only cause:

Because he didn't check the tyres, it led to the accident when he drove in the rain.

In the second version, he may not have had an accident even though the tyres were bad. But put all the circumstances together, and it led to the accident.

  • I am puzzled. What is the relationship or similarity of these two sentences to the usages in the OP's question? Also, what do you mean by that version of "lead/led"? Do you know of other versions of the verb to lead? Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 6:00
  • The OP's sentences and your second example use different meanings of led. The OP's sentences use meaning 3 (with object) and you use meaning 21 (without object) in this dictonary: dictionary.com/browse/lead?s=t . If you cite examples with different meanings, then obviously the meanings are different.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 19:19
  • Definition 3 begins with "to influence", which provides the context of the other terms in that definition. The word can be used to mean "caused", but the question asks what is the difference. If "caused" is the intended meaning of the sentence, it is unambiguous. The only reason to use "led to" rather than "caused" is to imply a lesser than direct relationship. It isn't clear what nits the previous comments seek to pick, but this answer is essentially correct. The concept of being one of many causes could also be described as the action that triggered a series of events leading to the outcome.
    – fixer1234
    Commented May 7, 2017 at 1:02

X leads Y when X makes or encourages Y to follow X.

Follow here can mean physically follow, as in I led my friend out the door, or follow as in "happen after", such as I was led to believe he wasn't coming to work after seeing pictures of him drunk last night.

Lead in this sense strongly implies cause, sometimes to the point where you could substitute cause and not change the meaning very much, but technically it does not actually mean cause.


A person or animal can be led, but an inanimate object cannot, as it cannot move or walk of its own will. In question #2, the investors were led to back off due to the recession.

In question #4, the direct object is a building, an inanimate object that can't be led, so we would use "caused" instead.

  • I think that's a different meaning of "lead to". In this case, it doesn't mean to guide or direct. It means to influence or induce an outcome, in the sense of cause.
    – fixer1234
    Commented May 7, 2017 at 1:09

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