Word Choice: Past vs. Passed
  • 3-minute read
  • 15th October 2018

Word Choice: Past vs. Passed

The words “past” and “passed” are surprisingly tricky. As well as sounding similar and starting with the same letters, for example, they can sometimes be used in similar situations. If you want to avoid errors in your written work, though, you may want to check out our guide to how they are used.

Past (Noun and Adjective)

When used as a noun, “past” refers to a time before the current moment:

History is the formal study of the past.

It also refers to a previous point in time when used as an adjective:

My past choices were sometimes flawed.

Here, “past” modifies the noun “choices” to show when they occurred.

Past (Adverb and Preposition)

Another use of “past” is as an adverb or preposition, where it means “beyond a point in time or space.” For instance, we could use it as an adverb like this:

They walked past the bridge on the way home.

Here, we use the adverb “past” to modify the verb “walked.”

Passed (Verb)

“Passed” is the simple past tense and past participle form of the verb “pass.” It is therefore used in a number of situations, which include having:

  • Moved beyond a particular point in time or space
  • Succeeded in a test
  • Handed something to someone
  • Died or departed
  • Changed from one state to another
  • Declined to accept a chance or offer

For example, we could use “passed” in any of the following sentences:

They passed the bridge on the way home.

She passed her exams with flying colors.

He passed me the envelope with a nervous look.

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She passed away peacefully in her sleep.

It passed from a solid to a liquid state.

I regret having passed on buying shares in Facebook.

This isn’t even a complete list of how “passed” can be used! The important thing, however, is that “passed” is always the past tense form of “pass,” including in the example sentences above.

Past or Passed?

These terms are most often confused when discussing movement. We can see how similar they are in this case if we repeat two examples from above:

They walked past the bridge on the way home.

They passed the bridge on the way home.

The key here is that “passed” is a verb, while “past” in this case is an adverb. To make sure you get this right in your writing, remember that:

  • As a noun and an adjective, “past” refers to a previous point in time.
  • As an adverb, “past” should always modify another verb in a sentence.
  • “Passed” and “pass” are both verbs spelled with a double “s.”

Furthermore, while “passed” is the past tense of “pass,” the word “past” is never a verb. Consequently, if you need an action word, “passed” will always be correct. If you need a noun, adverb, adjective, or preposition, on the other hand, the term you need will always be “past.”

Past (noun) = A time before the current moment

Past (adjective) = From an earlier time

Past (adverb/preposition) = Beyond a point in time or space

Passed (verb) = Past tense of “pass”

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