Passed vs Past

By Ali Hale

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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!

Why Do People Confuse “Past” and “Passed”, Anyway?

The words “past” and “passed” are homonyms (or homophones): they sound alike, but they’re two different words. This makes it easy to confuse them when writing – just like people often confuse the words “there”, “their” and “they’re”.

It doesn’t help that “past” and “passed” have quite similar meanings, each referring to movement relating to a fixed point (in time, space, or even life). This means it’s a lot easier to muddle them up than it is with some other homonyms with very different meanings, like “blue” and “blew”.

For a whole list of homonyms that commonly get confused, check out 25 Confused Homonym Pairs.

Quick Rules of Thumb When Dealing With “Past” and “Passed”

If you’re still struggling with “past” and “passed”, remember, “past” can’t be used as a verb.

If you find it hard to identify a verb, try replacing “passed” with the words “went by”, and see if your sentence works:

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

The heroes went by a village on their way towards the mountains.

Time passed slowly that afternoon.

Time went by slowly that afternoon.

(This won’t work in every case – e.g. “He passed his exams” won’t sound right as “He went by his exams” – but it’ll help you a lot of the time.)

Alternatively, as mentioned above, you can rewrite the sentence in the present tense, as though it’s happening right now.

Right/Wrong Examples of the Use of Past and Passed

Sometimes, it’s helpful to take a look at some examples so you can double-check if you’re using “past” and “passed” the right way:

Right: He ran straight past the bus stop. (“Past” is acting as a preposition here and could be replaced with the word “by”)

Wrong: He ran straight passed the bus stop. (“Passed” can’t be a preposition.)

Right: He passed the bus stop on his run. (“Passed” is a past-tense verb here and could be replaced with “went by”.)

Wrong: He past the bus stop on his run. (“Past” can’t be a verb.)

Right: She passed the time by reading a novel. (Here, “passed” is a transitive verb and “time” is the direct object.)

Wrong: She past the time by reading a novel. (“Past” can’t be a verb.)

Right: It is past the time you should be home. (“Past” is a preposition here. You could replace it with “after” or “beyond”.)

Wrong: It is passed the time you should be home. (“Passed” can’t be a preposition.)

Hopefully this helps clear up any “past” vs “passed” confusion for you.

“Past” vs “Passed” Quiz

For each sentence, select whether “past” or “passed” is correct.

  • 1. The time [past/passed] slowly that afternoon.

    passed
    past
  • 2. If I had a time machine, I’d rather travel to the future than the [past/passed].

    passed
    past

  • 3. The bus will arrive at half [past/passed] six.

    passed
    past
  • 4. My friend [past/passed] all her exams.

    past
    passed

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196 Responses to “Passed vs Past”

  • Joel

    Jill, I believe “passed our deadline is correct”.

    I have one: “This may force water PAST the seals” or “This may force water PASSED the seals”?

    Thnx!

  • Laura

    A local television news weather segment featured Autumn colors, using “Passed Peak”. Should it be “Past peak”?
    Thanks

  • Dandy Abesamis

    Joel, “past”
    Laura, I believe you’re correct. It should be “Past Peak”

  • Jane

    is this right?

    This is a new technology and already people have found ways to get passed it.

  • Dandy

    Jane, it’s “past.”

    A good rule to remember is: whenever there’s a main ‘action’ verb before “past,” then it should be “past.”

    Examples: get past, walk past, look past

    Moreover, just a little correction on your sentence; it should be “people have already” instead of “already people have”

  • Elizabeth Marie

    Which is correct?
    “Whether the storm has passed, or you’re still going through it…” or
    “Whether the storm has past, or you’re still going through it…”
    Thank you.

  • Maeve Maddox

    Laura and Dandy,
    That’s the trouble with headlines. They are often ambiguous.

    One could correctly say either
    “The autumn colors have passed their peak.”
    OR
    “The autumn colors are past their peak.”

  • Maeve Maddox

    Jill,
    The word “have” is a helping verb. It’s a signal that the form to follow must be “passed.”

  • Maeve Maddox

    Elizabeth,
    If the sentence contains the helping verb has/have/had, then “passed” is the word called for. The storm has passed.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you Maeve … that is what I had written. Just wanted to make sure. Thanks for the rule – I knew it not! [Olde English] (:-)

  • Angel

    It was the sound of horses being ridden past.
    It was the sound of horses being ridden passed.

    The latter makes sense. The horses pass the person, so they passed the person, therefore it is the sound they make as they approach and then pass the person. It more correctly discribes the sounds.

    The former looks better and feels right. The horses went beyond a certain place so they were ridden past the person. It fits with your example “The ball sped past the goalkeeper.”

    To get the disired sound effect I could change it to “It was the sound of horses approaching than passing,” but while it is discriptive, it is rather clumsy and wordy.

    I don’t want to use, “It was the sound of horses passing.” That sounds like they died.

  • Dandy

    Angel, that’s a good analysis. However, I believe “past” is the proper one as it is used as an adverb in that example.

  • Dandy

    Hi Millie,

    Four months of the school year have already passed.

  • Debise

    Ali, re passed /past
    My example is Time has passed but time has sped past.
    After reading your column I think it is like your example, ” the heroes passed” or “the heroes walked past”. So “sped”is the verb and past becomes the adverb. Am I right?
    Cheers,
    Denise

  • Raja

    The time is past.
    The time has passed.
    Both correct, right?

  • Denise

    Which is correct and why, please, thanks!:

    1) The moratorium for this product has now past

    or

    2) The moratorium for this product has now passed

    or

    3) The moratorium for this product is now past

    I think either 2 or 3, not 1.

  • jourdan

    I couldn’t sleep passed 7am.

    I couldn’t sleep past 7am.

    Which one?

  • Dandy

    Jourdan, why couldn’t you sleep past 7am?
    On a side note, if this happens frequently or every night, use “can’t” instead of “couldn’t.”
    And try going to bed late, like past midnight or so. I hope that helps 🙂

  • CL

    Hi there,

    I’m confused as to which form of ‘pass’ to use in this sentence:

    (Giving someone an instruction)

    “Walk past the shops.”
    or
    “Walk pass the shops.”

    Thanks!

  • Jamie Kitson

    “Passed” can always be used as an adjective, your examples make out like they’re special, if you pass me the salt and there’s another cellar on the table I could differentiate by calling the one you passed me the “passed salt”.

    Do you know what sort of milk moves in front of your face?
    Passed your eyes milk.

  • Antonio Bonifati

    I’m not sure if it’s better to say “a passed expiration date” or “a past expiration date”. Googling I found “a past expiration date” is more common. Please explain.

  • Caro

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this so clearly for us. It was very helpful, and will come in handy for people (even like myself) who often get these two words mixed up. 🙂

  • Dandy

    Antonio, “a past expiration date” is the correct one as it is used as an adjective.

    “It has passed the expiration date” is also correct; wherein “passed” is used as a verb in the past tense.

    Ask yourself, “is it a verb/action word?” If yes, then use “passed.” I believe this is a good general rule although it may not be 100% correct as Jamie’s example above is one of the exceptions.

  • james

    Following on from the expiration date question, would it be correct to say “If the chemical is past its expiration date…” or If the chemical is passed its expiration date….”? Many thanks.

  • Antonio Bonifati

    Hi James. I’m not a native speaker, but I think the correct form is “if the chemical has passed its expiration date…”.

    “has passed” is a verbal form, the “present perfect” formed by combining the auxiliary verb “has” or “have” with the past participle (passed). Keep in mind that “past” is not a past participle (excuse the pun), “passed” is.

  • Kylie

    What is correct?

    “I want to run something past you?”
    or
    “I want to run something passed you?”

    I have a bet running on this, so clarification would be great. thanks,

    K

  • mariaa

    I am pretty certain it is “run something PAST you”
    PASSED is a past tense VERB.

  • mary macneill

    Which is correct?

    The summer has passed.
    The summer has past.

  • Sarah

    Say it like you would say “The summer has passed us by”
    like they say, “the past has passed” does that make any sense?

  • Sarah

    just so everyone knows… that last message one was to Mary

  • Sharon Lewis

    by which time the time for service of the statement had passed or past?

    i think it’s passed but getting really confused now and so need your help!
    thanks

  • Dandy Abesamis

    Sharon,

    Yes, it’s passed. To simplify, there was an ‘action’ there, to pass. Whenever it’s used as an ‘action’ verb, use passed.

  • skaizun

    Is it “I’m passed the age of 50” or “I’m past…”?
    I know I could have used “beyond”, instead,
    or just said, “I’m over 50”, et al.,
    but, the sentence I’m using needs to use passed or past.
    I’m assuming “passed” is right,
    but would appreciate verification or correction!
    Thanks!

  • Jane

    When you are telling somebody directions do you say go past the school and turn right or go passed the school???

  • Dandy Abesamis

    skaizun, it’s “I’m past the age of 50.”
    Whenever it’s used to describe “beyond a certain age or time like minutes or hour,” use the preposition “past.”

    I’m past the age of __
    I’m two years past the age of __
    I’m 2 years past 30
    It’s five minutes past the hour of 12
    It’s half past the hour

    BUT…when it’s in a perfect tense, see below

    I have passed the age of __
    She has passed the age __

    ===

    Jane, go past the school.
    It’s an adverb where “go” is the verb.

    Saying “Go pass the school” is also grammatically correct; but simply saying “Pass the school” would be more appropriate.

  • james Aitken

    what would you say:
    “come passed my house”
    or “come past my house” ?

  • Will

    Much like what has been commented previously, the lose vs loose phenomenon is an early indication that children are beginning to face the nasty truth about technology in the 21st century. The years of study and observations, particularly with online gaming and chat rooms, I have conducted has led me to posit that, although technology such as spell-checking contains wondrous abilities to aid a person in writing, it does not catch mistakes in word usage if the words are spelled correctly, but used in the wrong context.

    Consequently, there is an increased usage of similarly sounding words in any form of messaging that without proper scrutiny and attempts to correct will only further disable a person from speaking and writing later in life.

    Examples that are increasingly becoming occurrences include loose vs lose, there their and they’re, our vs are, although that last one perplexes me as there exist a distinction in the pronunciation of both words. For how advanced spell-checking programs have become, there will still be instances where the program will not be able to recognize the incorrect usage of similar sounding words.

  • Irene

    ‘Days passed’ or ‘Days past’ to describe how many days you are over the end date? Please help.

  • angel

    “No food or drink passed this point”. Is this the correct passed?

  • Michael

    “No food or drink passed this point” would mean “no food or drink has passed this point (a food free zone?)

    “No food or drink past this point” would mean that food is not permitted beyond that point.

    ———————————————–

    “Days past” is the common phrase.

  • YZ

    which is correct?

    “All these past months…” or “All these past months…”?

    help please!

  • JD

    Thanks for this post – I like to think of myself as having quite a good grasp on the English language, but this particular word mix-up has always got to me. But having passed my eyes over this, I can hopefully say my word confusion is a thing of the past!

  • Cobi

    I was confused on the usage as well, but reading through all the comments has helped me a little.

    Passed, to pass, has to be a verb
    Past, everything else but a verb

    Geez, I feel like I need to go back to school.

  • GrammarNazi

    YZ, just in case you did not notice, you wrote the same form twice. If the question was actually meant to refer to wheter it was “All these past months” or “All these passed months”, the correct form would be “All these PAST month”:
    months – noun
    past – adjective

  • Jim

    Which one?

    “I thought we were past this!”

    or

    “I thought we were passed this!”

    My gut tells me the former if referring to an incident which happend some time ago, or the latter if you refer to a landmark whilst [while?] out for a walk.

  • Michael

    Jim – your gut is correct, although keep in mind that the latter infers that you are walking in circles. 😉

  • Maeve

    @Michael and Jim
    Whether you’re thinking of a landmark or not, “I thought we were passed this” is incorrect in modern usage. You could say “I thought we had passed this.”

    In the first example, “I thought we were past this,” past is a preposition. The sense is “I thought we had moved beyond this.”

    There are two more posts on past vs passed in the DWT archives:

    ?passed”/

    Jim, you might find this post on imply/infer of interest:

    As for past vs passed, insisting on the distinction is futile as long as the teaching of grammar is neglected in the schools.

    Right now I’m reading a novel that was published in 1796. The author, Matthew Lewis, was in his teens when he wrote it. He uses past and passed indiscriminately.

  • Betty

    I have a question. Is it correct to write, “No food or water passed this point.” ? I thought it was “pass” but I asked around and now I’m more confused. Thank you.

  • Michael

    >>>Is it correct to write, “No food or water passed this point.” ? <<>>I thought it was “pass”<<<

    No, "pass" is a verb.
    Please pass the salt.
    I'm going to make a pass at her.
    Are you sure you can pass that car?

    The correct statement for alerting people would be:

    NO FOOD OR BEVERAGES [PERMITTED] PAST THIS POINT.
    Better yet:
    NO FOOD OR BEVERAGES [PERMITTED] BEVERAGE BEYOND THIS POINT.

  • Michael

    sorry – copy & paste strikes again:
    the post above was meant to be:

    Better yet:
    NO FOOD OR BEVERAGES [PERMITTED] BEYOND THIS POINT.

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