Stop! Grammar Time: passed and past

I see a lot of younger writers struggling with the use of passed and past. I know they sound the same, but they have very different meanings.

To start with, past is a noun; passed is a verb.  But to complicate things, past is also a modifier; it can be an adjective or an adverb.  Let’s look at some examples.

Passed means to go by, to move beyond, some other object.

He passed her on the street.

We passed the cup from hand to hand.

She passed the test.

The usage of passed should always be as an action.

Past refers to a time and can be used as a noun:

The cataclysm happened in the distant past.

an adjective:

She feared her lover would discover the terrible secrets of her past life.

or an adverb, and this is usually where people get confused, because the adverb form of past means to go beyond:

He ran past.

The motorcycle was past them before they knew it was there.

The old man shuffled past the gate.

Still confused? Think of it this way; if there’s no verb in your phrase, then you are usually safe to use passed.  However, if you already have the verb, then you need to use past.

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13 thoughts on “Stop! Grammar Time: passed and past

  1. now i think i know how to use these two words properly when i’m saying a full sentence but what about saying a short phrase e.g. “just … the library”
    is it passed or past that is supposed to be used?

    ps. in my opinion both of the words are correct to be used though.

    thank you:)

    • sorry for not completely finishing the comment…

      the reason why i think both the words can be used because if we say “just passed the library” then we mean it then we just passed the library. on the other hand, saying “just past the library” kinda makes sense for me to as it means like “we are just now passed the library” this sort of things.

      • CORRECTIONS
        *then we mean it “that” we just passed the library.
        * “we are just now “past” the library”.

        • You are on the right track!

          We have passed the library, and
          We are past the library.

          Always remember, ‘passed’ is the verb, ‘past’ is the noun or modifier :) Notice that in the first sentence, the verb is ‘passed’, in the second sentence, the verb is ‘are’.

  2. Response to John Roach: Unless your hypothetical someone means “Go pass Walmart!” as an imperative, in the sense of “Go pass gas!” In which case this is also correct grammar, as well as politically correct.

  3. Just out of curiosity, which do you personally use when giving directions?

    I noticed recently that when I give directions, I say, for example, “Past Walmart, past the grocery store …” while other people say “Pass Walmart.” I’m omitting “go,” while they’re omitting “you.”

    Granted, this is not formal grammar, but I’m curious to hear others’ takes on it.

    Hi John. I had to think about this one, but I’m pretty sure I use “go past” more than “pass”. Either phrase is perfectly fine though. However if someone tells you to “go pass Walmart”, then you know they need a grammar check ;)

  4. I get much angrier at improper use of the word “loose.” As in, “Did you loose your keys?”

    How hard can it be to know the difference between loose and lose?

    It’s because people, in general, just can’t bloody spell.

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