Confusing “Passed” with “Past”

By Maeve Maddox

Reader Peggy Lanahan asks

Is it correct to say, “how does the food always get passed the bib? or past the bib”?

The frequent confusion between the words passed and past is understandable. They are pronounced alike and have similar meanings. Careful writers need to find some trick for remembering the difference.

Both words derive from the same Latin noun: passus “step, pace.” From that noun came a Vulgar Latin verb passare “to step” or “to walk.” English took the word from Old French passer.

The form passed is the past participle of the verb to pass.

Pass can be used transitively:
I passed the church on my way to the store.

or intransitively:
He passed through life without a care.

Intransitive pass is also used as a euphemism for “die,” as in When did your father pass?

The word past can be used as an adjective:
Don’t hold grudges for past offenses.

as an adverb:
I thought he would stop, but he just ran past.

and as a preposition:
How does the food always get past the bib?

For more on Past vs Passed, read this post by Ali.

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27 Responses to “Confusing “Passed” with “Past””

  • Alana Morales

    Thanks for addressing this – it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Keep up the good work!

    Alana
    Author, Domestically Challenged

  • Rod

    Is there a difference between using the past year and the last year?
    I would say I didn’t go on vacation last year and the past year was tough; Is this right? correct me If I’m wrong

  • PreciseEdit

    I think you identified the reason why “past” and “passed” get interchanged: they sound alike.

    I have worked with some writers who only use “past” and others who only use “passed,” regardless of the meaning. (This might make an interesting study of regional linguistics, such as studies of “dived” versus “dove.” Any graduate students in linguistics seeking dissertation topics?)

    In my experience, second-language learners are less likely to make this mistake than native English speakers, perhaps because language learners write and speak from a background of training and not natural language use. I’m speculating, of course, but I wonder if direct training in usage and grammar affects this.

  • Melissa

    I believe ‘past’ can also be a noun:

    “It’s in the past.”

    Unless I’m mistaken.

  • Maeve

    Melissa,
    You’re not mistaken. I didn’t include it in the discussion because as far as I can tell, no one ever makes the error of writing “It’s in the passed.”

    🙂

  • Ben

    What about when discribing a men and his past.
    For example:

    Dr. Babosar, the founder of GHB BioMedical Inc. who dedicates his life in the XXX industry for the Passed/Past 20 years.
    (the fact is he is still in this industry and still running the company)

    Which Passed/Past are more suitable?

  • Lucy

    I need to know if the use of past in the following sentence is correct: A few more months past and one morning…………. or should it be passed?

  • Gus Psi

    Lucy –
    yours should be passed ….. because you are speaking about time passing, so it passed.

  • Shawna

    So which is proper grammar, then, when running an idea by someone. A lot of times I see “I need to run an idea past you”, but I’m assuming ‘passed’ is the proper term? Typically most people speak this instead of writing it down, so I know it causes confusion in office emails.

  • Maeve Maddox

    Shawna,
    In the sentence “I need to run an idea past you,” past is a preposition. That is how it should be spelled.

    “Passed” is a verb. “I passed him on my way to the office.”
    “I have passed all my exams.”

    Lucy,
    Your example is ambiguous. “Past” can be used as an adjective. Therefore one can say such a thing as “In times past I lived in the woods.” I’ll assume with Gus that your example is expressing the thought that the months went by. They passed.

  • Christine

    I titled a painting and was corrected, but now I’m unsure if I was in fact “corrected.” The piece is named “Looking Passed the Pain”

  • Olivia

    Should i say, “i have been reading for the past 3 days” or “i have been reading for the passed 3 days” ??

  • Wally

    Both Christine and Olivia, I’m pretty sure “past” is correct form.

  • Wally

    And actually Christine, one way passed would work is if “Looking” was a noun and passed was a verb. If your title literally means, Looking is a person/place/thing that passed the pain (to someone or something). Like the pain was being passed. Remember the word passed is an action taking place where as past refers to a description of the action taking place (as in I looked past the pain) or has been pointed out a noun referring to times gone by in history (the past can hurt). You’re an artist though right? Whatever explanation you give should suffice.

  • Wally

    I looked past the pain. I looked beyond the pain. If you can replace the word with BEYOND and it still sounds right, then use PAST.

  • Carol

    Could you please tell me which of the following examples is correct?

    You are not allowed past these doors or you are not allowed passed these doors?

    Thank you!

  • leceaj

    what is better?thank you for the year that passed or thank you for the year that past?

  • Stephanie

    What about, “I just can’t get past the fact that he cheated on me,” or, “I just can’t get passed the fact that he cheated on me,”?

  • Ben

    “I”ll grab Frank and John on my way passed”
    or
    “I’ll grab Frank and John on my way past”

  • Laurie

    My teacher wrote the definition of traditions as “Beliefs or things that people do that have been past down from the past.” I think the first “past” should actually be spelled “passed.” Which of us is correct?

  • David

    Depending on your wish to interpret: “Past” in and of itself can be a preposition. “Passed” or “pass” never would. So in useing “get past” to mean get over, get around the fact, get beyond the idea, and so forth, “past” is just another preposition you can use in their place.

    If you wish to argue that “I can’t ignore the fact” means the same as “I can’t get ‘past’ the fact…” and since ignore is a verb shouldn’t it be “passed”, you must see that you left out the word “get” in that defense. If comfortable to vision, therefore, “get past” becomes a verbal phrase to mean “ignore”.

    Otherwise, “past” is a preposition for the object “fact”.

  • David

    * Oops.. can’t type…. that’s “using”

  • Netnoob

    What if someone uses it in context with let’s say drinking. “Way past tipsy” or “Way passed tipsy”. I feel like passed makes more sense because you’re drinking and over time becoming more inebriated. But please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Stacy

    As an author, I’ve had the hardest time using these 2 words correctly.
    Which should I use? “She followed passed/past the little green bushes”. “Passed/past the ferns”. “Not a bit of food passed/past his lips”.
    I’m still confused to the point that I try to avoid thw word altogether.
    Help!

  • Aaron

    To everyone:
    If something did pass, then it has passed.
    Otherwise, use past.

    Today I pass, yesterday I passed.

    If time did pass, time has passed.
    If there was a time long ago, but you are not talking about it passing, it is long past.

    Time has passed…
    In a time past…

    One hour passed before he woke up.
    One hour past bedtime.

    Stacy:

    She followed did pass the ferns? No.
    Then she followed (him) past the ferns.

    None of the food did pass his lips? Yes.
    None of the food passed his lips.

    Also try putting in “will pass” or “passes” and see if it still makes sense:

    “She followed passes the little green bushes” does not make sense, so don’t use “passed” either. Use past.

    “None of the food will pass his lips” does make sense. Use “passed”.

  • Stephanie

    Also, is it “he walked passed her”, “he walked past her”, or “he walked pass her”?

    I’m thinking it’s either “passed” or “past”.

    Help, anyone?

  • grammar queen

    Judging by the responses, I’m thinking readers still don’t get the concept. Perhaps we could sum it up this way:

    ‘past’ is another word for ‘last’ (adjective) or ‘by’ (preposition), etc.
    ‘passed’ is the past tense of ‘to pass.’
    (anyone else struck by the use of past here?)

    So: I pass, I passed, I have passed. He passes, he passed, he has passed. They pass, they passed, they have passed. You passed/we passed/everyone passed!

    Therefore: They have passed many exams in the PAST.

    In short: If you’re saying ‘passed,’ you gotta be able to stick a pronoun in front of it (’cause it’s a verb) but if you’re just saying when something happened use past.

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