Past vs. Passed: Getting Past the Confusion

Past vs. Passed: Getting Past the Confusion

Apr 09

past vs passedHere we are again, looking at one of the many word duos that are commonly confused. In fact, ‘past’ and ‘passed’ are misused more often than even ‘advise’ and ‘advice’, which you might remember as having been our last set of words outed and explained on this blog.

But if you were to compare it to another word couple that we have addressed here at Outstanding Writing Tips, it would be more like ‘lose’ and ‘loose’, two words with completely different meanings that look so much the same that even a mere typo can occur and throw off the entire context of your sentence.

Let’s look at each one separately to get a feel for the words.

First, we have past.

According to our trusty friend the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, past is “having existed or taken place in a period before the present.” In other words, it is a time that has since elapsed.

This puts the word in the context of time, such as in the past, present and future. You would use it to specifically refer to some moment prior to the one you are experiencing.

However, you can also use ‘past’ to describe a location of a place or object, such in: It is past the corner store on Buckley Street.

You will notice that the way it is used changes the context of the word, making it necessary to pay attention to the words surrounding it for a complete look at the sentence and its meaning. There are other ways in which you can use ‘past’, but they are less common, and so we won’t address them here.

Second, we have passed.

This word is much more specific, and has fewer applications. The definition is something that has completed a movement, shifting past something (see what I did there?).

This can be a direct or a more abstract concept. For example, when you finish a college course you have “passed the class”.

When you are ill with a kidney stone and it moves out of your system, they say you “”passed the stone”.

If someone you love has recently died, they might say they have “passed away”.

I tend to think of ‘passed’ as a much softer word than ‘past’. The meaning is more direct in its usage, and yet not as concrete as the applications for the latter.

Of course, when you take off the ‘ed’, you just have ‘pass’. This, again, becomes a much more forceful word, with a whole list of meanings depending on if it is used alone or as part of another word, such as in ‘surpass’.

I guess you can say that that is the wonderful thing about the English language. It is extremely complex, shifting and ever changing with the slightest additions. You can completely reinvent a sentence using a few different words, building a new context.

When it comes to these two words, you can do a lot with them. But the meanings between the two are clear, so use them wisely!