“Read” (pronounced “red”) is a noun and the past participle of read (pronounced “reed”). Same spelling, different sounds.
What is the difference between read and read?
Confused about the verb “read”? You’re not the only one. This particular word is difficult to learn because it can sound the same for different verb tenses or when it appears as an adjective and noun.
- When we use read as a past participle or adjective, it sounds like the word “red” (rhymes with “wed” or “dead”).
- When read references the present tense or a person, place, or thing (noun), it sounds like the word “reed” (with a long -e- sound).
The main source of confusion around “read” is that it’s an irregular verb, meaning it doesn’t follow established conjugation patterns we see with verbs like walk, talk, or dance. As explained by Lexico, “regular verbs” either end with –ed for the third-person singular past tense and past participle, or –ing for the present participle (e.g., walked/walking, danced/dancing, or talked/talking).
Irregular verbs are often specific to third-person tenses or past/present participles, so English learners need to memorize each tense form to use these verbs correctly. In the case of “read,” we use the following verb patterns:
- Third-person singular present tense: read(s) → /reed/ or /reeds/
- Third-person singular past tense: read → /red/
- Past participle: read → /red/
- Present participle: reading → /reed–ing/
- “She reads a lot.” (third-person singular present tense)
- “She read a new book.” (third-person past tense)
- “We would have read a new book.” (past participle)
- “They are reading books.” (present participle)
What does read mean?
The word read is primarily a verb, but it’s also an adjective and noun when referencing the act itself. As a verb, the most general definition of read is “to examine and comprehend the meaning of written or printed composition of characters, symbols, words, or sentences.” (For example, you are reading this lesson right now.)
The ability to comprehend a language or form of composition:
- “The young children can read and write.”
- “She can read English.”
- “Do you read music?”
To utter or recite written language aloud:
- “Will you read the actor’s part aloud?”
- “The kids want me to read them a story.”
To discover and learn new information in a written or printed source:
- “I read that in an article last week.”
- “Which textbook did you read that from?”
[British English] To complete a special study at a university:
- “Mother attended school in Longdon to read history and theology.”
To habitually read a specific newspaper, periodical, blog, or website:
- “He reads The New Yorker on his tablet.”
- “Mom reads Oprah magazine every month.”
(Of a text or sign) To contain a particular wording or phrase:
- “The sign read, ‘Do not enter.’”
To perceive the meaning, nature, or significance of something through subjective interpretation:
- “Your text reads like a warning.”
- “She read a look of fear in the stranger’s eyes.”
- “The reporter’s sarcasm made the article read as satire.”
To foretell or predict through an interpretation of something:
- “The psychic read my palm and predicted I’d die young.”
- “Some forms of divination involve reading tea leaves.”
- “We read her natal chart and believe she is most compatible with Earth signs.”
To edit or proofread a written or printed statement:
- “Can you read this article before it goes to print?”
- “I read through your earlier manuscripts, and everything looked correct.”
(Of a corrected piece of text) To indicate or substitute a misused, misspelled, or commonly misinterpreted word of an original sentence:
- “Thou shalt not steel [read as steal].”
(Of a measuring device) To indicate a recorded measurement:
- “The thermometer read 102 degrees.”
- “This calculator can read five-thousand tables in ten seconds.”
(Of an electronic storage medium) To acquire or read coded information (data) from a device such as a computer, storage processor, hard disk, etc.:
- “The player cannot read your CD because the disc is damaged.”
- “This software can open and read zip files.”
- “The computer cannot read this keyboard.”
(Telecommunications) To hear or receive a message over a radio broadcast:
- “Ground control, do you read?”
What does read mean as an adjective and noun?
The adjective read describes something or someone as having a certain degree of knowledge or information from reading. Otherwise, the adjective may suggest a publication, website, or author has a large readership (audience).
- “Your daughter is a well-read woman.”
- “They are thoroughly read on the topic of astrophysics.”
- “We only print books that are already well-read.”
- “The LA Times remains a widely read newspaper.”
As a noun, the word read either references a period of reading (chiefly British), a book worth reading, something read in the past, or a particular understanding of something (mainly American; related to the archaic verb rede).
A period of reading/act of reading (examples):
- “I think I will go to the park for a nice read.”
- “Dad likes a good read before bed.”
Something worth reading or previously read (examples):
- “Her latest book is a great read.”
- “It’s a must-read.”
- “It was a terrible read that gave the children nightmares.”
A particular understanding or opinion (examples):
- “What was your read on the situation?”
- “His read on the matter was that our boss was unaware of our actual responsibilities.”
Likewise, we can use reading (the present participle) as a noun to reference the act or skill of reading or something that can be read:
- “Students were assigned a list of digital readings from their e-book.”
- “Participants enjoyed the psychic’s palm readings.”
- “Their reading comprehension is not up to standards.”
- “The book reading went well.”
Etymology of read
The verb read derives from Middle English reden via Old English rǣdan, and shares a relation to the German verb raten. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, early senses of the verb meant ‘to advise’ or ‘interpret something challenging or written.”
When to use read /reed/ vs. read /red/?
As mentioned before, there are two ways to pronounce the word read: “reed” or “red.” When “read” has a long –e– sound, it’s either a noun or a verb written in the present tense, future tense, infinitive form, or as a command (the imperative mood).
- “Her read on the matter is that…”
- “My read on this is…”
- “It was a good read.”
- “…a long read.”
- “…a quiet read.”
- “It was a read, all right.”
- “The read of a lifetime.”
Present tense examples:
- “We read.”
- “I read all the time.”
- “She reads science fiction books.”
- “Can you read this for me right now?”
Future tense examples:
- “I will read.”
- “Will you read this book?”
- “Can you read this later?”
- “We can read more tonight.”
To-infinitive examples (to + verb):
- “We had to read those textbooks.”
- “I liked to read at one time.
- “To read is to learn.”
- “They like to read e-books.”
- “Will you be able to read?”
- “I would love to read with you.”
Imperative mood examples:
- “Read this to me.”
- “Let’s read.”
- “You will read.”
- “They must read it.”
- “You shall read.”
Adjective examples (submodifier + adjective):
- “This book club is for the well-read.”
- “The New York Times is a widely read publication.”
Simple past tense examples:
- “I read this morning.”
- “We read that book last year.”
- “He read all five chapters before school.”
Past perfect examples (had + past participle):
- “We had read that passage already, so we chose a different one.”
- “He had read it before.”
Present perfect examples (have/has + past participle):
- “She has read quite a bit already.”
- “You haven’t read Thoreau?”
Future perfect examples (will have + past participle):
- “We will have read the first five chapters by then.”
- “I will have read the entire series by that point.”
If you enjoy learning about irregular verbs, be sure to read up on the following lessons by The Word Counter:
Test how well you understand the difference between read and read with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: When using the simple past tense, “read” sounds like the name of a primary color.
- There are significant differences between read and read, but this is not one of them.
a. Verb tense
c. Word forms
- The verb read can mean _________________.
a. To derive a particular meaning from something
b. To understand musical composition
c. To receive a message over a radio connection
d. All of the above
- The noun read does not reference __________.
a. A period of reading
b. Something worth reading
c. An emendation of a text
d. A particular way of thinking
- As an adjective, the word read appears after (a/an) ___________ in a sentence.
b. Indirect object
c. Direct object
d. Strong verb
- Which of the following definitions of read is more common in British English?
a. To complete a special study at a university
b. An opinion of something
c. A period of reading
d. A and C
- The verb read comes from _______________.
a. Old High German rātan
b. Old English rǣdan
c. Old Frisian rēda
d. Middle English rātan
- “Read.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Read.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Reading.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Read.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
- “Read.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
- “What’s The Difference Between Regular And Irregular Verbs?” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.