Passed or past?
If you’ve ever been confused about using passed and past when writing, your brain cells may benefit from a short workout in the form of this mini-quiz. No punishing press-ups or unforgiving Lycra required – just read the following paragraph, and decide whether the words in bold type use the words passed and past correctly:
This year has past so quickly for me. When I look back over the passed 12 months, I have mixed feelings. On the plus side, I past my final exams and qualified as an accountant. However, I was knocked off my bike when a bus past by me too closely, resulting in two broken ribs – ouch! But I’m putting the past behind me now, and looking forward to 2015.
So, did that get your sluggish synapses firing on all cylinders? Check the correct version below to see how you did. It can be tricky to know which word to use (and why): passed and past sound very similar when you say them and their meanings overlap in some respects. If you’re still all at sea but want to avoid future confusion, read on for a useful explanation.
The key to using passed and past correctly is to grasp what they mean and to understand the different grammatical roles they play.
Passed is one of the forms of the regular verb to pass. You can tell from its -ed ending that it’s the verb form (called the past tense) that we use to describe things that have happened. Passed is also the past participle of to pass, so it’s used to form the passive voice (the law was passed in 2010) and perfect tenses (ten years have passed since I visited Paris).
The main meanings of to pass are:
- to move or to make something move in a particular direction: the procession passed along the road; I passed my bag through the X-ray machine.
- to go by someone or something and to continue away from he, she, or it: he passed her in the street without recognizing her; we passed the theatre on the way to the station.
- to give something to someone: he passed me a message from Hugh.
- to go by (used to talk about time): the weeks have passed so slowly.
- to be successful in an exam, test, etc.: I passed my driving test last month.
- to officially approve a law: the law was passed in 2010.
While passed is only a verb form, past is very versatile: it can function as an adjective, an adverb, a noun, and a preposition. Here are the main meanings for each:
- the time before the moment of speaking or writing: that approach hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work today.
- the history of a place or person: she’s always refused to talk about her past.
- gone by in time and no longer existing; belonging to an earlier time: his best days are past; let’s forget our past differences.
- happening before and leading up to the time of speaking or writing: she’s changed greatly in the past year.
- from one side of someone or something to the other; to or on the further side of: the officer rushed past her and into the house; we drove past the villa’s gates.
- (when telling the time) later than; after: it’s past midnight, let’s go to sleep.
- further than a specific point, limit, or age: the movie took the studio’s ticket sales past the $2 billion
- so as to move from one side of something or someone to the other: she saw a car going past and then heard a bang; Cox was booked for tripping the player as he ran past.
- used to talk about time going by: a month went past and nothing changed.
Main points of confusion
The good news is that passed and past are mainly confused and misused when people are describing movement (that’s to say, not when they’re talking about passing exams or using other meanings of the verb). Here are some real examples, taken from the 3-billion-word Oxford English Corpus:
X At that point, I pushed passed him.
X A lot of emergency vehicles have gone passed.
X Travis past me during practice.
To sort out the confusion, you need to perform some simple grammatical analysis. The first and second examples don’t make sense because the verb passed has been mistakenly used instead of the preposition or adverb past. So there are two ‘movement’ verbs in each sentence (pushed and passed; gone and passed) when you only need one. To get it right, change passed to past:
✔ At that point, I pushed past him.
✔ A lot or emergency vehicles have gone past.
While there are too many verbs in the first two cases, the third sentence is incorrect because there’s no verb – past is a preposition. Correcting the sentence would therefore either involve changing past to the verb form passed, or keeping past and adding a verb of movement:
✔ Travis passed me during practice.
✔ Travis drove past me during practice.
I hope this has helped and that you’re not past caring about the whole subject! Here’s a final hint: past is *never* a verb, so if you know that the word you want is a verb, passed is always the right choice. Conversely, if you need a noun, adjective, adverb, or preposition, it’s *got* to be past.
This year has passed so quickly for me. When I look back over the past 12 months, I have mixed feelings. On the plus side, I passed my final exams and qualified as an accountant. However, I was knocked off my bike when a bus passed me too closely, resulting in two broken ribs – ouch! But I’m putting the past behind me now, and looking forward to 2015.