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Commonly Confused Words: Passed vs. Past

It’s been a while since we’ve looked at a pair of commonly confused words, but today we’re back with the words ‘passed’ and ‘past’. Because these words sound so similar, people often think they’re interchangeable – but be warned: they’re not! Scroll down to make sure you’re using each word in the correct context!

What does each word mean?

  • The word passed is the past tense form of the verb pass. The Spellzone dictionary defines the word pass as ‘to go across or through’, but the word can also be used in other contexts such as ‘to pass laws’ (i.e. to create laws) or ‘to pass exams’ (i.e. to succeed in exams). You can read the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word here.

    Here is passed used in some example sentences:

    • We passed Mr. Johnson’s house on our way into town.
    • He passed his driving test on the first attempt.
    • They passed a football back and forth.
    • She passed him the folder.
    • They passed a law banning smoking in public places.
    • Sadly, my grandmother passed away.
    • After a long time passed, Emma and Jane began to trust each other again.

  • The word past is used to describe a ‘time that has elapsed’ such as an ‘earlier period in someone’s life’. It can also be used as an adverb to describe something that has passed or gone by. Unlike passed, which describes an action, the word past describes a time or space. You can read the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word past here.

    • We drove past Mr. Johnson’s house on our way into town.
    • The football rolled past the keeper and straight into the goal.
    • In the past people were allowed to smoke wherever they liked.
    • We lost my grandmother this past winter.
    • Emma and Jane have had trust issues in the past, but now things seem to be better between them.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

  • Remember that the word ‘past’ used to describe a previous time.
  • Imagine two people with names beginning with S passing something to each other: Sarah passed Sally the salt.
  • Put your sentence into present tense. If the word ‘pass’ (or ‘passes’) works in the new sentence it means you need to use passed.

    For example:

    • I ____ him the ball.

      If you put the word ‘pass’ in this sentence it becomes: “I pass him the ball.

    This makes sense, so you know your sentence needs to be: “I passed him the ball.”

    • This ____ winter, we went skiing.

    If you put the word ‘pass’ in this sentence it becomes: “This pass winter, we went skiing.

    This doesn’t make sense, so you know your sentence needs to be: “This past winter, we went skiing.

Where can I find other posts on easy-to-confuse words?

What words do you always mix up? Let us know and we’ll feature them in a blog post!

Avani Shah

11 Nov 2014
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