What would you conclude upon reading the two clauses? Did Karen disappear because she wanted to disappear (e.g., go away on her own), or because of some other circumstances (e.g., she got murdered or whatever)? Or are both possible?

The context is from the book After The Storm in which Karen, who occasionally runs away from home and returns, this time, does not return.

Simply rephrasing it to "what led to Karen's disappearance" seems to be a much better, but does this change anything materially?

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    Gee! Welcome to ELU, Willhelmine. Could you please condense this extremely long post into a nice, readable one? :)
    – user405662
    Apr 28, 2023 at 14:37
  • This question really isn't clear to me. Try and reduce it to a single, specific question. Perhaps if you consider "who led the horse to water" and variants of that. Looking up lead in a dictionary may also help - the verb has several related but different meanings, including guide, direct, serve as a channel for, have charge of, go at the head of, or bring to a conclusion. If you're worried about issues of agency or who is in control, that may help.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 28, 2023 at 15:03
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    The issue is that I'm the confused reader and not the writer. This means that I can't rewrite or reformulate something that I didn't understand in the first place. ;) You see the very first sentence in the quoted text (issue), and you see the quoted text (context). Does the first sentence, particularly the part "led Karen to her" make sense to you? What would you conclude upon reading it? Did Karen disappear because she wanted to disappear (go away on her own), or because of some circumstances other (she got murdered)? Or both are possible? Apr 28, 2023 at 16:29
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    Exactly this "can mean" is the point as this is how do I understand it, and this is what gives when translated into my mother tongue, be it by the translation service DeepL, or by the "brain-auto-traslate" (I can speak English well, but I do not think on English!). My confusion arises because the text author claims that "what led Karen to her disappearance"and "what led to Karen's disappearance" have exactly same meaning and I can't see how both of those can be same. German speaking victim of tricky english here :( Apr 28, 2023 at 18:24
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    The phrase "led Karen to XXX" is ambiguous on its own. It can be circumstances that caused XXX, or it can be reasons why she did XXX. But it should be clear after reading the rest of the text.
    – Barmar
    Apr 28, 2023 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


As a native English speaker, I don't see any difficulty with this sentence. It doesn't matter whether Karen intentionally disappeared, or whether something caused her to disappear.

The formulation "led to" simply means "caused" in this context. So the plot revolves around what caused Karen to disappear. What we are interested in in the sentence is the set of circumstances that caused the disappearance --either by influencing Karen such that she decided to disappear, or by influencing some other agent to kidnap her or persuade her to elope or whatever it may be.

Once we have the context, we'd know how exactly the disappearance manifests, but it wouldn't tell us anything new about the verb phrase "led to".

  • While I'd agree that 'what led to Karen's disappearance' is totally idiomatic, Bennett, I'm far from happy with 'what led Karen to her disappearance'. There are very few examples of 'lead/led NP to her disappearance' (where the NP [direct object] is 'her', 'Anne' etc) on the internet as far as I've been able to see. // 'What led her to her death' seems far more idiomatic. Apr 29, 2023 at 11:44
  • OK, if some native English speakers assume some phrase is perfectly fine but some other native English speakers find it less than ideal, am I at least allowed to find it a "somewhat suboptimal" choice? Apr 29, 2023 at 12:40
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    For this native speaker of American English, “led Karen to her disappearance” strikes me as a phrase in need of a copy editor. “Led to Karen’s disappearance “ is fine and suggests that disappearing wasn’t her idea. And “led Karen to disappear” is also fine; this one suggests that she intentionally vanished. Apr 30, 2023 at 23:48
  • What led me to my disappearance. It works fine.
    – Lambie
    Jun 2, 2023 at 14:20
  • @Lambie Evidence would suggest it's not idiomatic: Google ngrams ... led to her disappearance/led her to her disappearance / led me to my disappearance. And no hits in a Google search for No results found for "led me to my disappearance". 4 for "led her to her disappearance". Jun 2, 2023 at 14:52

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