Homophones can be very confusing for English writers, and the question of passed vs past can be one of the trickier ones. Here is how you can tell these two apart.
Words that sound the same and have different meanings are known as homophones, and they can become commonly confused words in the English language. Passed vs past is one pair of homonyms that often trip up English writers, mostly because these two words sound identical when spoken.
Thankfully, “passed” and “past” are two very different parts of speech. When you know these different meanings, you can easily keep these tricky English homophones separate in your mind.
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Passed vs Past — Different Words with Similar Origins
One of the reasons that “passed” and “past” are so difficult to keep straight is the fact that both come from the verb “to pass.” Historically, the two words could be used interchangeably. However, language is always evolving, and today the two words have different uses.
Unfortunately, the rise in social media and texting has led to many misuses of “passed” and “past.” Because so many people get these words confused, English writers often are unsure which one to use.
Using “Passed” Correctly
The word “passed” is the past tense and past participle form of the verb “pass.” Any time you are using these homophones as a verb or action word, you need to spell it “passed.”
“Passed” can be both a transitive verb or an intransitive verb. If it is a transitive verb, it will have a direct object, like this:
- The student passed his test to the teacher.
If it is an intransitive verb, it will not have a direct object, like this:
- The deadline to sign up for the fair as an exhibitor has passed.
Unique Uses of “Passed”
Grammar rules are meant to be broken, and “passed” is an example of an English word that has exceptions. While “passed” is always the spelling when writing a verb, this word has some unique uses that aren't quite verbs. For example, when speaking of someone who has died, a writer might say:
- Don't speak negatively of the passed.
This comes from another common use of “passed,” which is the phrase “passed away.
“Passed” can also sometimes be an adjective, such as when referring to a “passed ball” in a sport or “passed pawn” in chess. Writers may also call someone who has passed a particular examination and qualification test a “passed” professional, such as a “passed fireman.” This use is uncommon, but still grammatically correct.
Using “Past” Correctly
“Past” can hold several parts of speech in the sentence, but it usually means a former time or place. The word past can be used as a noun, adjective, preposition, or adverb.
“Past” as a Noun
When you refer to something as “happening in the past” you are using the word as a noun. In this case, the word means a previous period of time or an earlier time. Here are some examples:
- In the past, people rode horses instead of driving cars.
- Understanding the past can be a key to understanding the present.
- The successful businessman had an interesting past.
“Past” as an Adjective
“Past” can also function as an adjective. It can modify nouns as well as pronouns. Here are some examples:
- The past tense of the verb “go” is “went.”
- In the past year, we have seen a lot of changes.
- Our past president had very different political persuasions than the current one.
“Past” as a Preposition
Sometimes “past” can be the start of a prepositional phrase. If used as a preposition, it will have an object. Here are some examples:
- It's ten minutes past eleven.
- The driver sped past the waiting police officer.
- You've moved past the point of no return
In these sentences, the preposition “past” shows how something is or how it exists.
“Past” as an Adverb
Finally, this word can be an adverb that modifies a verb, adjective or another adverb. In this use, it can indicate the passage of time or how something moves from one area to another. Here are some examples:
- The boy ran past quickly.
- Time went past quickly while they were enjoying the beautiful day.
The Final Word on Passed vs Past
So how can you keep “passed” and “past” straight? Except for the phrase “passed away,” instances in sports or other games, or instances involving someone who passed examinations, “passed” is always a verb. Other uses of these homophones are going to use “past.”
FAQs About Passed vs Past
Is “passed” or “past” correct?
Both words are correct, depending on the usage. “Passed” is typically the past tense of the verb pass, while “past” is used as a noun, preposition, adjective or adverb. There are some exceptions for the uses of “passed” but the word “past” is never a verb.
Is it “past your bedtime” or “passed your bedtime?”
Past your bedtime is a prepositional phrase, and thus it should use “past” not “passed.
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