Passed vs Past

By Ali Hale

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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193 Responses to “Passed vs Past”

  • Autumn

    “The month just past was boring” or “The month just passed was boring”

  • Christian

    Is this correct: “It’s long passed 15 minutes, you need to text me.” From a text message.

  • Anthony

    I am wondering if someone can confirm these sentences as correct.
    “The days for mourning are now past.”
    “The days for mourning have now passed.”

    What about this sentence? Correct as written?
    “The time for joking has come and passed”.

  • Karl

    I corrected a friend that wrote that she “was passed being angry”, I wrote that it should be “past being angry”. She wrote back that not in that case, but I still maintain that I’m correct. Being is the verb, angry is the noun, and past should be the the adverb. Correct?

  • Sandy

    Get past, unless you are the object being passed around. Also, move past.

    Beyond = past

    Passed is a verb. Something was passed (thrown, handed to another person, waved before your eyes). Something passed (drove by, died, didn’t fail).

    Past is a noun (the past),
    Or an adjective (a past life, past months)
    OR a preposition (the house past the corner)
    OR an adverb (run past the house)

    Ok, so I’m not sure which are adverbs vs prepositions, but they’re all PAST. 🙂

  • Susan

    I’m all for dropping either “past”or “passed”, and using one word only.

  • Sana

    Hi there!
    I recently got into a discussion with a friend about whether the correct saying is to “move past an issue” or to “move passed”. I think it would be past because it’s being used as a noun but I’m not sure. Would really appreciate your help 🙂 Thanks!

  • Jennifer

    Once I get passed the typo’s this is a good presentation.
    Should this be past or passed or either?

    I think either but thought I’d ask.

  • Rhonda Felton

    If I said: “It’s always fun catching up on all those years passed!” Is passed spelled correctly?

  • Eddie

    It’d be “past the door” and “run it past him”

    Past = noun, adjective, preposition,

    Passed= past(adj. form) tense verb
    Pass=present tense verb
    “I will pass(verb) it by him.” You are passing it to the guy, a thought, idea, concept.

    “It was passed(verb) by him.” The idea,thought,concept was passed by him.

    “I will run(verb) it(object) past(preposition) him” (It is being related to him, spatially, temporally, figuratively)

    Do not go passed/past this point = “Do not pass(verb, an action) this point.” VS “Do not go(verb) past(preposition relating to point) this point.”

  • Jon

    Hi
    ‘I will run it passed him’, is my take on this one.

    The it is trying to confuse thing, but I don’t think it changes things.

    Regards
    Jon

  • Denise

    Is it do not go passed this door or Do not go past this door.

    Now that I think of it, maybe it is correct to be passed, because you would be passing the door frame to get into the room.

    So to say “Do not go (passed, past) this point”. Would seem similar the the above statement.

  • Tiffany

    Past vs Passed
    There is a sentence here at work that is driving me nuts, my gut tells me it should be ‘Past’ but I could be wrong. Please help. Which is correct.

    “Policy effective date is passed 30 days.”

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