Passed vs Past

By Ali Hale - 3 minute read

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Sandi from Inspiration for Writers wrote to ask:

“Can you do a segment on Past vs. Passed–if you haven’t already? Too many get these words mixed up.”

Very happy to oblige, Sandi!

Past – relates to location

The word past locates something in time, and sometimes in space. It can be
used as an adjective, noun, or adverb.

“Past” as an adjective

The first definition which the OED gives for past as an adjective is “Gone by in time; elapsed; done with; over.” For example:

  • “The days for mourning are now past.”

When attributed to a group of people, past can also mean “Having served one’s term of office; former.” (OED)

  • “All past presidents of the United States were male.”

And in grammar, we have more examples of past being used as an adjective, such as in “past tense” and “past participle”.

“Past” as a noun

The main meaning for the noun form of past, given by the OED, is “The time that has gone by; a time, or all of the time, before the present.”

  • “In the past, standards were higher.”
  • “We cannot live in the past.”

“Past” as a preposition

As a preposition, past can mean: “Beyond in time; after; beyond the age for or time of; (in stating the time of day) so many minutes, or a quarter or half of an hour, after a particular hour.” (OED)

  • “It is almost half past five.”

It can also be used for location: “Beyond in place; further on than; at or on the further side of; to a point beyond.” (OED)

  • “My house is the one just past the turning.”

“Past” as an adverb

The first meaning the OED cites for past being used as an adverb is “So as to pass or go by; by.” For example:

  • “The ball sped past the goalkeeper.”

Passed – a verb in the past tense

Passed is the past participle of the verb “to pass”. It can be an intransitive verb (one which doesn’t require an object) or a transitive verb (one which requires both a subject and one or more objects).

“To pass” means “To proceed, move forward, depart; to cause to do this.” (OED) This can refer to movement forwards in time, in space, or in life (such as “to pass an examination”).

For example:

  • “The weeks passed quickly.” (Intransitive: subject “the weeks” and no object).
  • “I passed all my exams!” (Transitive: subject “I” and object “my exams”.)
  • “He passed the ball well during the match earlier.” (Transitive: subject “He” and object “the ball”.)

When do “past” and “passed” get confused?

Often, writers muddle the words past and passed in sentences such as:

  • “The heroes passed a village on their way towards the mountains.”

It’s common to see this written as:

  • “The heroes past a village on their way towards the mountains.”

But the word should be passed, as (in this sentence) it’s the past participle of the verb “to pass”. An easy way to tell is to rewrite the sentence in the present tense, as though you’re describing something which is happening currently:

  • “The heroes pass a village on their way towards the mountains.”
  • or “The heroes are passing a village on their way towards the mountains.”

However, if you wrote:

  • “The heroes walked past a village on their way towards the mountains.”

It’s correct to use past. The verb in this sentence is “walked”, and the “past” is acting as an adverb.

Unusual uses of the word “passed”

Most of the time, passed is a verb, as described above. There are a few occasions when it can be used as a noun or an adjective, though. For example:

  • “Don’t speak ill of the passed.” (noun)
    – This comes from the phrase “passed-away”.
  • “A passed pawn” (adjective)
    – Term used in chess.
  • “A passed ball” (adjective)
    – Term used in baseball.
  • “A passed midshipman/fireman/surgeon” (adjective)
    – Someone who has passed a period of instruction and qualified through examination – apparently this usage arose in the navy.

Have you come across any other unusual uses? Are there still any cases where you’re not sure whether to use passed or past? Share your examples with us in the comments below!

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195 Responses to “Passed vs Past”

  • Tim

    is “loose” and “lose” a similar example?

    I often see something like “You will loose a lot of money on that deal”. Maybe it is a cultural thing of which I am unaware, but I think it should be “lose” not “loose” in that context.

  • marketeer

    I would like to see an explanation for usage of the “sure” words: insure, ensure and assure. I find misuses of these words quite common.

  • Ali

    Tim,

    You’re completely correct, it should be “lose”. Many people misspell “lose” as “loose”.

    Lose = the opposite of “win”
    Loose = the opposite of “tight”

    Hope that helps!

  • kim

    I still am not clear which spelling in the phrase “to get passed” something (or is it “to get past” something)? I see it both ways. The former feels like one passed or got beyond something and left it behind in the past!

  • …..

    THIS IS CONFUSING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cynthia Pinkstaff

    ……given the approximate eight (8) months that have passed since we last communicated on this matter.

    This was part of the sentence that the word “passed” was questioned. I feel “past” is the correct term. Please help me out here.

  • Hailey

    So would it be I biked this passed weekend? Or I biked this past weekend?

    Thanks for the help!

  • cindy

    If you are telling someone that they are too late to do something, do you say “your time to do this has past” or “passed”? or does it matter?

  • jennie

    cindy,
    it’s is passed as in “you time to do this has passed”. Since you are using it as a verb, it is passed not past.

    Hailey,
    the correct word is “past”, since you are using it as an adjective.

    hope this helps.

  • Mary Vanderpool

    Am I correctly using passed and past in the following expression:

    What’s passed is past.

    (NOTE: What’s means what has)

  • Neil

    I hope you can help me. I have been asked to write a sign.
    The organisation has asked for a sign to stop cars driving any further. They would like the sign to say:
    NO CARS PASSED THIS POINT PLEASE

    I think it should say: NO CARS PAST THIS POINT PLEASE.
    Which one is right?

  • Ali

    Hi Neil,

    You are correct. It should be “NO CARS PAST THIS POINT PLEASE.”

    Hope that helps,

    Ali

  • george

    boy i hope i passed this test befor it to late and the test has pass me by?

  • Ali

    Hi George,

    That sentence should be:

    “Boy, I hope I passed this test before it’s too late and the test has passed me by.”

    “Pass” is the present tense form of the very “to pass”, and you want the past form (“passed”).

    If you want to use “past” and “pass2 in your sentence, you could write, “Boy, I hope I passed this test before it’s past the time to pass.” (I don’t think that’s the greatest sentence in the world, but it’s grammatically correct!

  • Phong

    I was wondering when to use the word
    “pass” or “past” when using it in a sentence
    dealing with someone or something that had died.

    For example:

    Barbara recently passed away.
    or should it be
    Barbara recently past away.

    ?? =/

  • Ali

    Hi Phong,

    It should be “Barbara recently passed away.”

  • Sally

    I am a little unsure of which to use in this sentence: “If we notice that the expiry date of your credit card has past, we will automatically contact you.” Passed or Past?

  • Cherie

    How about this?

    For the “past” few days

    Should it be past or passed?

  • Zeek

    Sally, passed is the correct word. When you use a helping verb [has], your next word is a verb [passed].

    Cherie, your sentence is similar to Hailey’s. Past is correct, because it’s acting as an adjective. Or adverb. One of the two.

  • Mike Jones

    which is correct, it is PASSED the deadline or it is PAST the deadline?

  • dakota

    It tastes good if you can get past the looks. Past or Passed?

  • Lynne Mohl

    My grandson & I made some cookies for my son-in-law in Iraq. I told him “If he could get passed the looks of the cookies, they would taste great”. My daughter said it was past. Which is correct?

  • stretcher bars

    Mike, It is passed the deadline…

  • Alyce Masen

    Would I be:
    “I passed out as soon as the liquor took hold of my senses.”

    or,

    “I past out as soon as the liquor took hold of my senses.”

    ?

  • P

    which is correct?

    I need to run something PAST/PASSED you.

  • martha ramirez

    Ten minutes passed and so I decided…

    Is this correct or does it need to be past?

  • mondo

    which is correct?

    Los Angeles is lovely once you get past the insane traffic.

    OR

    Los Angeles is lovely once you get passed the insane traffic.

  • Stephanie

    If everyone in the world associates a place with Communism and Communism alone, tourists will never be able to look (past or passed) that and see the good in the country and all it has to offer.

    Which one?

  • Regina Stanley

    Help…. should this read,”half the length of the truck was past the white line” or “half of the length of the truck was passed the white line?”

  • D. Deciantis

    Which is correct: passed or past?

    The car that past you had passed the intersection first.

  • D. Deciantis

    Which is corect: passed or past?
    The car that past you had passed the intersection first?

  • Kirsten

    If I’m getting this correctly, I think with a lot of the unanswered examples posted, if you use the trick mentioned above about trying to say it in the present tense, then you can figure it out. If it makes sense in the present tense as “pass”, then it should be “passed”. If it doesn’t make sense as “pass” then it should be past. (Though if it’s an unusual case, that could behave differently.)

    Such as,

    Los Angeles is lovely once you get pass/passing the insane traffic. — doesn’t make sense, so it should be: Los Angeles is lovely once you get past the insane traffic.

    It tastes good if you can get pass/passing the looks. — doesn’t make sense, so it should be: It tastes good if you can get past the looks.

    But if you reworded it to say, “I am passing the looks of the cookies and enjoying the taste.” You could use “I have passed…”

    Also:
    “I passed out as soon as the liquor took hold of my senses” is correct because it also works as:
    “I pass out as soon as the liquor takes a hold of my senses.”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong!!

  • Daniel Grossberg

    It seems like syntax and tense have a huge influence. Let me give five examples of saying the same thing:

    1. “I have gone past the deadline” vs. “I have gone passed a deadline”. The latter is correct.

    2. “I am past the deadline” vs. “I am passed” the deadline. The former is correct.

    Both sets of above sentences clearly mean the exact same thing, but use different homonyms.

    3. “The deadline has passed” vs. “The deadline has past”. The former is correct.

    4. “The deadline is in the passed” vs. The deadline is in the past”. The latter is correct.

    Once again, both sets of sentences clearly mean the exact same thing but use different homonyms.

    Interestingly, you can be correct with both of the following:

    5. “It is a passed deadline” or “It is a past deadline”. The former means the deadline has gone by (similar to the “passed ball” or “passed pawn”), the latter means the deadline existed in a prior time (i.e. it is in the past).

  • Mary

    past vs passed

    As the months past or As the months passed

  • Peggy Lanahan

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

  • Jennifer

    Which one is the correct sentence

    He’s going to past out when he gets home?

    He’s going to passed out when he gets home?

  • Klepto

    Jennifer, neither of those are correct. It should be: He’s going to pass out when he gets home.
    The sentence is future tense, not past tense. If it was in past tense it would be: He passed out when he got home.

  • Emery

    I get the “change to present tense” and the heroes passing by the village, but what if the heroes are stationary?

    “The carriage trundled past the heroes”
    or
    “The carriage trundled passed the heroes”

    ??
    Thanks!
    – Emery

  • Michael

    Please clarify the difference between PAST-[office holder] and FORMER-[office holder].

    I know that one refers to the person who held office immediately preceding the current office holder and the other refers to all those preceding the current office holder – but which is which?

    Is G.W. Bush our PAST-President and G.H. Bush a FORMER- President, or vice versa?

  • Dandy Abesamis

    Emery, it should be “The carriage trundled past the heroes”
    It is used as an adverb. The verb is “trundled” and the adverb is “past.”

    Michael, G.W. is both “past” and “former;”
    while G.H. can only be “former”

    “Past” is the one immediately preceding the current.

  • sandy24

    So I see the use of “immediate past president.” Is this redundant and should be just “past president?”

  • romy

    I want to know which word to use in the following sentence…

    “I looked passed/past his appearance…”
    um
    I guess “I look passing his appearance” (puttting it in the present tense doesn’t work) so I guess it’s “past”….right?

  • Dave

    How about “The report came from a driver who was driving “passed” the scene of the accident?

    Or should it be past or pass? =|

  • Christina

    Daniel: 1. “I have gone past the deadline” vs. “I have gone passed a deadline”. The latter is correct.

    You are incorrect & slightly correct.
    “I have gone past the deadline.” Past” describes how far gone, so it is an adverb. This sentence is CORRECT.

    “I have gone passed a deadline.” The wording “have gone passed” is grammatically incorrect. It sounds more like Country slang.
    This sentence would be correct if it said, “I have passed a deadline.” The key difference here is the articles in each sentence: the first sentence refers to “the” deadline & the second refers to “a” deadline.

  • Greg

    I think that pass is more of an action word.

    Past is more about time. With the exception of a postion that was served by someone, such as, past president.

  • Rufferto

    >> Dave on August 26, 2009 8:52 am
    >>
    >> How about “The report came from a driver who was
    >> driving “passed” the scene of the accident?

    The report came from a driver who was driving past the scene of the accident.

    Hopefully, after he drove past the accident, he pulled over to use a phone to report the accident, he had just passed. The victims of the accident wished they had passed that place without incident – or without it’s set of dents – but that’s all in the past, now.

    Just don’t let accidents become part of your future.

  • Art

    Which one:
    We have already (past, passed) that down.

  • Dandy Abesamis

    >> sandy24 on August 14, 2009 3:21 pm
    >> So I see the use of “immediate past president.” Is this redundant >> and should be just “past president?”
    >>

    Sandy, yes “past president” is more proper.

    ==

    >> romy on August 24, 2009 11:47 pm
    >> I want to know which word to use in the following sentence…
    >> “I looked passed/past his appearance…”
    >> um I guess “I look passing his appearance”
    >> (puttting it in the present tense doesn’t work)
    >> so I guess it’s “past”….right?

    Romy, that’s correct. “past”

    ==

    >> Art on October 2, 2009 9:02 pm
    >> Which one:
    >> We have already (past, passed) that down.

    Art, it’s “passed.” It’s used as a transitive verb in that sentence.

  • Aj

    That was very helpful, thank you. I actually found several misuses of “passed” in my own writing, which have been fixed.

  • jill

    which is correct, ‘we have passed our initial deadline, or we have past our initial deadline?’

    Thanks,

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