Passed and Past

Commonly Confused Words

passed and past
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The words passed and past both come from the verb to pass. Originally, in fact, they were the same word—but that's no longer true.


Passed is both the past and past participle form of the verb pass. Pass has many meanings, including to move, take place, go beyond, go across, decline, win approval, and complete successfully.

Past is a noun (meaning a previous time), an adjective (meaning ago), and a preposition (meaning beyond).


  • "We passed two men in baseball caps, chatting outside a pub."
    (Norman Lewis, "Essex")
  • "There was a time when the neighbors used to open their doors, look out, and laugh at her exaggerated care; others teased her. That had long passed. Bessie spoke to no one."
    (Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Key." The New Yorker, 1970)
  • "All of childhood's unanswered questions must finally be passed back to the town and answered there. Heroes and bogey men, values and dislikes, are first encountered and labeled in that early environment."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
  • "I slithered across the mud in city clothes, past knots of bait-diggers forking worms into buckets."
    (Jonathan Raban, "Sea-Room." Granta, December 1983)
  • "And so, preparing for such a master, Inigo had wandered the world. Getting stronger as he grew, learning from whoever could teach him mysteries that needed solving. Lately, he had begun to specialize. His talents were past phenomenal, but still not good enough to get the blessing of Yeste."
    (William Golding, The Princess Bride. Harcourt, 1973)
  • The past two weeks have been hard for Sally. She has not passed any of her exams. When she walked past me, I told her to forget the past and look toward the future.

Idiom Alerts

  • Pass(ed) Away
    The phrasal verb pass(ed) away is a euphemism for die or died.
    "At her residence on Tuesday last, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, there passed away a lady of talent and refinement whose pen, in days gone by, enriched our local literature with a volume of sensitive, eloquent verse."
    (Alice Munro, "Meneseteung." Friend of My Youth. Knopf, 1990)
  • Pass(ed) the Hat (Around)
    The idiom pass(ed) the hat (around) means to collect donations of money from a group of people.
    "When it became evident that Moran's grandiose plans had actually borne fruit, Wright casually passed the hat around his sponsors and built the Pathological Institute as one wing of the new school building."
    (E.A. Heaman, St. Mary's: The History of a London Teaching Hospital.  McGill-Queen's Press, 2003)
  • Pass(ed) Out
    The phrasal verb pass(ed) out means to faint or lose consciousness.
    "He, the host of the motor trip and the owner of the car, had passed out on the back seat leaving Guy behind the steering wheel trying to start the stalled engine."
    (Maya Angelou, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes. Random House, 1986)
  • Past One's Prime
    The expression past one's prime means no longer in good health or no longer as good at something as one used to be.
    "The Golden Age Superman is the grandfatherly figure who now embraces his role as symbolic figurehead. Clearly past his prime and no longer in touch with the current society's needs, he no longer attempts to lead or dictate change; instead he serves as the symbol of a bygone era."
    (Jeffrey K. Johnson, "This Isn't Your Grandfather's Comic Book Universe: The Return of the Golden Age Superman." The Ages of Superman, ed. by Joseph J. Darowski. McFarland, 2012)


(a) We drove _____ the exit five minutes ago.

(b) We _____ the exit five minutes ago.

(c) In the _____, students wore caps and gowns.

(d) In _____ years, students had to do kitchen chores.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

Answers to Practice Exercises: Passed and Past

(a) We drove past the exit five minutes ago.

(b) We passed the exit five minutes ago.

(c) In the past, students wore caps and gowns to classes.

(d) In past years, students had to do kitchen chores.