When to use past and passed

They say the past is a foreign country. Sometimes, knowing whether to use past or passed can make English seem like a foreign language.

Passed or pastDespite sounding the same, past and passed (and, if you want to be fancy, parsed) are different words that cannot be used interchangeably.

So what do each of the words mean and when should they be used?

Passed is the past tense of the verb to pass. As a verb, it’s a doing word and can be conjugated like so:

I passed…
You passed…
He/she passed…
We passed…
You passed… (plural)
They passed…

As well as I have passed, You have passed, etc.

As such, passed should be used when you’re talking about the act of passing something, an object or something like an exam.

For example:

I passed my exam yesterday.
I passed the cheese to my friend, Mickey.
I passed over the bridge on my way to work this morning.

There are instances where passed is used as an adjective but they are rare.

When you’re not using the past tense of to pass, use past.

Past has different meanings and uses.

  • adjective, time before the present: This past month has been very trying.
  • noun, the time before the present: That is in the past.
  • adverb, beyond or denoting movement: Shelley ran past.
  • preposition, similar to an adverb to denote movement or going beyond: Don’t run past the tree.

Perhaps an easy way to remember the difference is that past is never used as verb. For that you need passed.

(And only use parsed when you’ve examined or analysed something minutely, or analysed a string or text into logical syntactic components.)

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