“Past” or “Passed”? “Pastime” or “Pass Time”?

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Here are two words people often confuse: passed and past. Let’s see if we can clarify the distinction.

Past has several different uses.

Past

Adjective

In its adjective form, past means “just gone” or “having taken place before now.”

  • I regret many of my past deeds.
  • In the past few days, I have watched seventeen horror movies.
  • Passed is in the past tense.

Preposition

Past also can be used as a preposition meaning “at the father side of,” “up to and beyond,” “or later than.” It can also refer to the verb tense referring to a previous action.

  • The town is just past the horizon.
  • We drove past our old house.
  • The play starts at fifteen minutes past six.

Noun

Past can also be a noun meaning “an earlier time” or “the events of someone’s life before the present.”

  • I would like to travel into the past.
  • He is still suffering from his difficult past.

Adverb

Finally, past can be used as an adverb meaning “to go beyond a certain point or time.”

  • Just then, Whitney drove past.
  • Days went past before we saw him again.
  • The goalie watched the puck sneak past into the net.

Passed

Passed is the past tense and past participle form of the verb pass.

Past Tense Verb

Pass has a variety of definitions as a verb. Among the many options, it can mean “to move past or beyond,” “to go or make one’s way through,” “to go from one quality or state to another,” “to go from the control of one to another,” “to happen or occur,” or “to throw or toss.”

  • The sports car passed me on the wrong side.
  • We stood as the Senator passed us.
  • Congress passed a bill outlawing unlicensed dentistry.
  • The water passed to a vapor.
  • The hot potato was passed around the room.
  • The events that have passed today will not be soon forgotten.
  • The quarterback passed the ball to the goal line.

Exeptions

There are a couple unusual uses for passed.

It can be used as a noun to refer to someone who has died.

  • Let’s pause for a moment of silence to remember the passed.

It is used as an adjective in baseball referring to a pitched ball that gets by the catcher.

  • Gonzales went to second base on a passed ball.

The Test

It’s obvious why these homophones are often confused since they both usually have something to do with relations in time or place. Here’s a little test to help you decide when you are in doubt.

Since, passed is almost always used as a past-tense verb, try replacing it with the present tense, pass. If it makes sense, you most likely need passed rather than past.

  • I think that was the Johnsons who went (past/passed) just now.

Could you say, “…that was the Johnsons who went pass…”? No. So, you need past.

  • Our family past/passed a circus caravan.

Could you say, “Our family passes a circus caravan”? Yes. So, you need passed.

Pastime, Past Time, or Pass Time?

These are all legitimate options: pastime, past time, pass time, and passed time. Let’s get them straight.

Pastime

The single word pastime refers to a hobby or activity. It’s a simple noun.

  • Juggling koalas is my favorite pastime.

Past Time

Separating the two words creates a noun phrase where past is an adjective modifying time. It means simply “a time gone by.”

  • In a past time, you could buy a loaf of bread for a nickel.

Pass Time

To “pass the time” is an idiom meaning “spend time doing something.” Pass in this sense is a transitive verb and time the direct object.

  • I like to pass time in supermarket checkout lines reciting lines from Hamlet.
  • We passed the time by baking and eating a delicious batch of nachos.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

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  1. david
    david10-24-2015

    Thanks for this explanation, since all I know about this issue is that I cannot keep these straight. Now I also know that it’s too complicated for me to try. But I will refer back to here next time I am unable to think of a way around using these words.

  2. noemi
    noemi11-20-2014

    “past tense”: past here is an adjective, not a preposition

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko11-20-2014

      You are correct, Noemi. Thanks for pointing that out. I moved that sentence to proper group.

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