• 3-minute read
  • 13th September 2018

Word Choice: Passed vs. Past

‘Passed’ and ‘past’ sound similar, and both are common words. It is no surprise, then, that these terms are often confused in writing. But these words are also very different in practice, so if you want to avoid errors in your work, check out our guide to how they should be used.

Passed (Past Tense of ‘Pass’)

The verb ‘passed’ is the simple past tense and the past participle form of ‘pass’. It is therefore used in a wide variety of situations, including (but not limited to) describing:

  • Having moved past a particular point in time or space
  • When someone has succeeded in a test
  • When someone has handed something to someone else
  • The passage of time in the past tense

For instance, we could use ‘passed’ in any of the following sentences:

I passed your house on my way here.

She passed her driving test on the first try.

He passed me the ball and I ran for the goal.

It felt like time passed more slowly when we were young.

In all of these cases, though, ‘passed’ is always a past tense verb.

Past (Bygone in Time)

You may have noticed that we used the word ‘past’ several times in defining ‘passed’. This is because one use of ‘past’ is as an adjective meaning ‘from a previous point in time’. For instance:

You can’t rely on past glories forever.

This is the same sense of ‘past’ as we see in ‘past tense’, which is the grammatical form we use when discussing things that have already happened. A related use is as a noun meaning ‘a time before now’:

Living conditions in the past were poor for many.

Here, for example, ‘past’ refers to a point in history. The word ‘past’ can, in fact, refer to any point before now from the beginning of the universe to the moment you began reading this sentence.

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

Past (Beyond a Certain Point)

As well as being an adjective and a noun, ‘past’ can also be an adverb and a preposition. In these cases, it indicates moving beyond a certain point in time or space. For example:

I walked past your house on my way here.

It is past midnight, so I need to go to bed.

In the first sentence, ‘past’ modifies the verb ‘walked’ to tell us about how the action was performed. In the second, it indicates the relationship between the current time and midnight. However, these uses are both related to the idea of going or being ‘beyond’ something.

Passed or Past?

These words are most confusing when referring to moving beyond something, since either could apply depending on how you form the sentence. For instance, we could say both of the following:

I passed your house on my way here.

I walked past your house on my way here.

These sentences effectively mean the same. Remember, though, that ‘passed’ is only ever a past tense verb. If you need an action word, then, this will be the correct term. On the other hand, if you need a word that isn’t a verb, the correct term will be ‘past’ regardless of whether you’re using it as a noun, adverb, adjective or preposition. Remember:

Passed (verb) = Past tense of ‘pass’

Past (noun) = A time before the current moment

Past (adjective) = Indicates that something is from an earlier time

Past (adverb or preposition) = Used when moving beyond something

Comments (0)

Get help from a language expert.

Try our proofreading services for free.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.