Passed or Past?

The Quick Answer
What is the difference between "past" and "passed"?

"Passed" is the past tense of "to pass." For everything else, use "past."

Past or Passed?

There is often confusion over the words "passed" and "past." This confusion occurs most commonly with the following expressions:
  • Passed away
  • Passed a test
  • Past a date
  • Past sell by date
  • Past caring
  • Past few days
  • Past year
  • Past midnight
  • The past weekend
  • Run past
  • Walked past
  • See past (These are all correct.)
The confusion is understandable. Compare these similar sentences:
  • It is past the deadline.
  • You have passed the deadline.
  • You are past the point of no return.
  • You have passed the point of no return.
  • Move past the finish line.
  • They passed the finish line.
  • It is past your bedtime.
  • You have passed your bedtime.
passed or past?
A flow diagram to help you choose between "passed" and "past."


Passed

The word "passed" is the past tense of the verb "to pass", e.g., I pass (present tense), I passed and I have passed (both past tense), and I will pass (future tense).

Examples:
  • She passed the exam with distinction.
  • (Here, to pass means = to be successful in a test)
  • The operator has already passed the note to the typist.
  • (Here, to pass = to hand over)
    (In this example, passed is a past passive participle.)
  • The lion passed the zebra without so much as a glance.
  • (Here, to pass = to move past)
"To pass" often means to move past, and this is where the confusion often arises. Of note, "to pass" can also mean to sail past, to fly past, to run past, to hop past, etc. (in other words, the method of moving is irrelevant). This is worth bearing in mind because if you have used any verb of motion, then it will be partnered with "past" and not "passed." Remember that "passed" is the past tense of the verb "to pass." This is a 100% rule.
  • The lion passed the zebra without so much as a glance.
  • The lion wandered past the zebra without so much as a glance.
  • (If there's a verb of motion (here, wandered), then it will be partnered with "past.")
  • The Harrier passed at an altitude of 100 feet.
  • The Harrier flew past at an altitude of 100 feet.
  • (If there's a verb of motion (here, flew), then it will be partnered with "past.")

Past

The word "past" has several meanings (usually related to time before the present or to indicate movement from one side of a reference point to the other side.) "Past" can be used as an adjective, an adverb, a noun, or a preposition:

As an adjective, "past" denotes time before the present.
  • This past year has been difficult for the recruiters.
  • She loves to tell us about past dance competitions in the hall.
As a noun, "past" means the time before the present.
  • That's all in the past.
  • Can you dig into his past?
As an adverb, "past" means beyond or denotes movement from one side of a reference point to the other.
  • Don't go past.
  • Alan ran past.
  • (Note: The word past is acting as an adverb in each of these examples. However, it could be argued that the word past is a preposition forming part of phrasal verb (like to run away or to jump up). See the similar examples below.)
As a preposition, "past" means beyond or denotes movement from one side of a reference point to the other.
  • Don't go past the gate.
  • (past = beyond)
  • Alan ran past the postman.
  • (past = movement from one side to the other)

Top Tip: Substitute with "Went Past"

When referring to movement, to test whether "passed" is correct, substitute it with "went past." If your sentence still makes sense, then "passed" is the correct version.
  • He passed the shop.
  • He went past the shop.
  • (As this still makes sense with "went past," then "passed" is correct.)
  • He skipped passed the shop.
  • He skipped went past the shop.
  • (As this still makes no sense when "went past" is substituted in, then "passed" is wrong.)
Substitute with "Gone Past." On occasion, it may be necessary to use "gone past" to test whether "passed" is correct. This is because "passed" is also the past passive participle of "to pass."
  • He has passed the dockyard.
  • He has gone past the dockyard.
  • (As this still makes sense with "gone past," then "passed" is correct.)
Interactive Test
 

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose?
What are adjectives? What are adverbs? What are nouns? What are verbs? List of easily confused words