Past or Passed: Which Word Is Correct?


The past is many things—but it’s not the same as passed.

If you ever find yourself struggling with the grammatical difference between the two, you aren’t alone. They sound identical when spoken aloud and have somewhat related definitions. However, they do have different meanings, and that can help you understand when each word should be used.

Let’s start with the easy one.

Passed Is a Form of the Verb Pass

Passed is simply the past tense of the verb pass (the form that conveys the action was done earlier). Here are some examples:

  • Tim passed the football to Jerry.
  • Once the road became clear, Sandy pushed on the accelerator and passed the slow-moving vehicle.
  • When the final grades were released, my friends and I were relieved to see that we had all passed the class.

In each sentence, the “pass” action has already taken place.

Past Has Different Meanings

The word past can mean different things based on its context.

Past is often used as a noun that refers to the time gone by: e.g., You can’t live in the past if you want to set your sights on tomorrow.

Another use of past is as an adjective meaning “bygone”: e.g., In years past we all got together at the lake house for Christmas.

You might also find past as an adverb modifying an action in the sense of “so as to pass by or beyond”: e.g., Did you see the rabbit that just ran past?

It can serve as a preposition too, as in Keep driving until you reach the pond that’s right past the abandoned farm (i.e., at the farther side of it).

Note that each use suggests something that is just beyond in terms of time or space.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the correct word in each sentence below.

  1. Lisa couldn’t believe her sister [passed / past] on the opportunity to spend a semester in Paris.
  2. It’s hard to stay focused if you always worry about mistakes made in the [passed / past].
  3. Hard work is important, but you shouldn’t push your body [passed / past] the point of exhaustion.
  4. Julie was given detention because of the note she [passed / past] in class.
  5. I thought I saw Fred outside the stadium, but he kept walking [passed / past] me.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

  1. Lisa couldn’t believe her sister passed on the opportunity to spend a semester in Paris.
  2. It’s hard to stay focused if you always worry about mistakes made in the past.
  3. Hard work is important, but you shouldn’t push your body past the point of exhaustion.
  4. Julie was given detention because of the note she passed in class.
  5. I thought I saw Fred outside the stadium, but he kept walking past

 

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