Passed vs. Past: What’s the Difference?

In English, there are a lot of homophones that confuse native and non-native users alike. And while speakers usually glance right over them, they leave writers unsure which word to use. The two words passed vs. past are no exception to this. These two words sound identical when you say them aloud, but they have different meaning and functions within a sentence.

What is the Difference Between Passed and Past?

In this post, I want to outline the definitions of these words, their functions within a sentence, how you can tell them apart, and give you a few trick to remember their differences. After reading this post, you’ll never question yourself on the proper usage of these two words again.

When to Use Passed

define passed or pastWhat does passed mean? Passed is the past participle of the verb to pass, meaning to move on or ahead; proceed. It can function as both a transitive and intransitive verb. For example,

  • The car passed me in the left lane.
  • I unknowingly passed by her in the crowd.
  • The train car passed through the mountainside.

The different tenses for to pass are as follows,

  • I pass (present tense)
  • I passed (past tense)
  • I have passed (past tense)
  • I will pass (future tense)

The verb to pass usually implies movement of some sort and can sometimes cause confusion because it often means to move past. For example,

  • The hunter passed by the deer without even seeing it.

Some people will mistakenly write a sentence like this as,

  • The hunter past by the deer without even seeing it.

In doing so, people confuse passed, which is a verb, with past, which is a noun or adverb. If you take a look at the second sentence, you will notice that there is no verb for the subject hunter because past is not a verb.

A good way to tell which word to use in sentences like these is to rewrite them using the present tense. For example, you would rewrite the above sentences as follows,

  • The hunter passes by the deer without even seeing it.
  • The hunter is passing by the deer without even seeing it.

However, you could write the following sentence,

  • The hunter walked past the deer without even seeing it.

In this case past is correctly being used. The verb in this sentence is walked and past is acting as an adverb.

A good rule to keep track of troublesome sentences like these is that if a verb indicating motion is already in your sentence, you will always couple it with past not passed. For example,

  • He passed us by.

-but-

  • He sailed past us.
  • He flew past us.
  • He blew past us.
  • He ran past us.

When to Use Past

grammar for past passedWhat does past mean? Past, unlike passed, has many different functions. It can be an adjective, noun, adverb, and even a preposition. Most of its meanings have to do with time.

Past as an Adjective

As an adjective, past denotes some time before the present or no longer current. For example,

  • Bill Clinton is a past president.
  • The past 12 months have been especially difficult.

Past as a Noun

As a noun, past means the time before the present. This is different from the adjective because as the adjective form denotes a time before the present, the noun is the time before the present. For example,

  • The incoming chairman has a distinguished past as a public servant.
  • In the past, I had trouble with my finances.
  • Washington D.C. has many monuments illustrating figures of the past.

Past as an Adverb

As an adverb, past means so as to pass by or go beyond.

  • He drove past us in his car.
  • The running back ran past the defensive line.

Past as a Preposition

As a preposition, past means beyond in position, further than. For example,

  • My house is two past the stop sign.
  • The time is half past two.

Remember the Difference

The best way to keep track of the differences between these two words is by remembering that passed generally deals with movement and past generally deals with time.

You can remember this because passed is a longer word than past and movement is a longer word than time.

Summary

These two words are very different in their meanings and uses and it’s important to keep past vs. passed separate in your writing.

Passed is the past participle of to pass. It is used to indicate movement.

Past is a noun, adverb, adjective, and preposition. It generally has something to do with time.

 

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