The Past Has Passed

Yes, I see a bit of confusion regarding past and passed. These two words are often misused, but it’s not all that hard to know which to use in a sentence. If you keep in mind that passed is almost always a verb, you won’t get steered wrong (but there are some exceptions, which I’ll mention below).

The word past, though, can function in a whole lot of different ways in a sentence.

  • Past can be a noun: I miss those old movies they had in the past.
  • Past can also be an adjective: Those days are now past. Remember, adjectives modify a noun, so you would use past when you say, “All the past governors were terrible.”
  • Past can be a preposition: It’s half past six.
  • Past can be an adverb: The ball soared past the goalie.

When you need a verb, use passed. Look at the difference between these two sentences:

  • The man walked past the store.
  • The man passed the store.

It’s easy to see why the two can get confused. But just remember the “verb” rule.

Now, of course, time to break the rules, as is so common in the English language and what makes it all so fun (sigh).

Here are some unusual usages for passed as a noun or adjective:

  • “Don’t speak ill of the passed”—This comes from the phrase “passed-away.”
  • “A passed pawn”—A term used in chess.
  • “A passed ball”—A term used in baseball.
  • “A passed midshipman/fireman/surgeon”—Someone who has passed a period of instruction and qualified through examination; apparently this usage arose in the Navy.

So if you used to mess these up and now are clear, good for you. Forget your past mistakes; the past has passed and is now past.

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