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Language Arts

Passed vs. Past



This article takes on the easily confused words Past vs. Passed. Learn when to use past or passed and the differences in meaning. Also tips on how to differentiate passed and past.

Did you ever wonder if Marcel Proust would have had the same success if he had named his roman The Remembrance of Things That Have Passed as opposed to The Remembrance of Things Past?  Past and passed are confusing because they sound alike, are spelled similarly, and are forms of the same word. We’ll sort them out in this article.

A Pass By Any Other Name . . .

Passed and past are both forms of the verb pass, which can be transitive (take an object) or intransitive (make meaning without an object).

Transitive: It was an exciting moment at the Tour de France, as the cyclist in seventh place was able to pass all six cyclists ahead of him to take the lead!

Intransitive: Thank you for showing your badge: you may pass.

Since passed and past are forms of the same word, they obviously have the same etymology: pass came into English through Old French and Middle English, from the Latin passus, which means “step.” Both forms are pronounced /PAST/.

Passed

Since pass is a regular verb, it forms the past tense and the passed participle both by added •ed, resulting in the form passed. Passed is used by itself as the past tense, and with the helping verbs have or has for the present perfect and the helping verb had for the past perfect for both the transitive and the intransitive form. Here are examples.

Transitive:

Past tense: Congress passed the law, but the President vetoed it.

Present Perfect tense: Congress has passed the law, but the President has vetoed it.

Past Perfect tense: Congress had passed the law, but the President had vetoed it.

Intransitive:

Past tense: The elections passed, and things settled down again.

Present Perfect tense: The elections have passed, and things have settled down again.

Past Perfect tense: The elections had passed, and things had settled down again.

Notice that the form of the helping verb have in the present perfect tense is altered only to match the number of the subject (have for a plural subject; has for a singular subject).

Past

Past is the adjective, adverb, prepositional, and noun form of pass. Here are examples:

Adjective: This year’s income tax return always covers income from the past year.

Notice that in the first example, Remembrance of Things Past, that the adjective follows the noun. This is uncommon in English, but possible with past.

Adverb: Sonia felt nostalgic as the floats moved smoothly past.

Preposition: Meet me in the field by the big rock under the oak tree at quarter past two, and say the password to identify yourself.

Noun: The muralist said that the past was a constant source of inspiration to her.

Differentiating Passed and Past

My suggestion for helping to remember when to use passed and when to use past focuses on how they are formed. If you remember that you use passed•the regular, standard, past tense verb form•whenever you need a form that is a verb (with the simple past or past participle), and use past for all other parts of speech, you will always choose the proper form.