Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.
PAST versus PASSED
People often mix up the words past and passed. They may sound the same, but these words are different parts of speech and have different meanings and uses.
Past is not a verb and the tense cannot be changed. It can be many other parts of speech and have multiple meanings, but it is not a verb or an action itself. If it is not a verb, and you cannot change the tense, then use past.
- I walked past his house.
- It is past her bedtime.
- He turned in the report past the deadline.
- It is half past three and I’m late.
- That happened in the past.
- She was lost in her memories of past times.
- The gas station is past the old movie theater.
- He ran past the post office this morning.
- She excels because of her past experience.
Passed is always a verb and is the past tense of pass. Since it is a verb, the tense can be changed — pass, passes, passing, passed, will pass. If you are using a verb or doing an action, and the tense can be changed, then use passed.
- She passed the coffee shop when she drove to my house.
- He passed the main entrance before he finally found it.
- She passed out from exhaustion.
- He passed the book to his teacher.
- She passed her test.
- They passed the papers around the room.
- Time passed slowly while waiting for the bell to ring.
- They passed each other in the hallway.
- He passed the time by telling jokes.
A simple test: If you can change the tense (passed, pass, passing, will pass, passes), then use passed. If you cannot, use past.
Basically, if it is a verb and can change tense, use passed.
If it is not a verb and cannot change tense, then use past.
To further help illustrate this, the following sentences are similar, but one column uses past and the other uses passed — it depends on how the words are used.
• She walked past the house. • She passed the house.
• It is past his bedtime. • He has passed his bedtime.
• They ran past the end zone. • They passed the end zone.
• It is now past the deadline. • She has passed the deadline.
• He drove past the zoo. • He passed the zoo when he drove.
• She went past the restaurant. • She passed by the restaurant.
In the first column, past is not a verb and cannot change tense — past is correct here. In the second column, passed is clearly a verb and can change tense — passed is correct here.
Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.