Is it past or passed? #WriterWednesday #Amwriting

It’s a miracle my Kindle survived yesterday’s read. I kept seeing the same mistake again and again. Obviously, it was driving me nutso. Unfortunately, the mistake is a common one. I see it being repeated in book after book. (Yes, I’m repeating myself, but I’m seriously annoyed.) What’s the error? Confusing the word past with passed and vice versa. I get where the confusion is coming from – the words are pronounced the same after all. My Dutch husband often struggles with how to write words in English that sound the same. Funny enough, I have the same problem in Dutch as the past participle often ends in -d or -t and you can’t hear the difference. There’s a whole mnemonic device (which they call a donkey’s bridge) to remember whether to use the -d or -t. I can’t even remember how to spell the donkey’s bridge (‘t kofschip), which makes things a bit complicated. Thank goodness this is one of the few things Microsoft Word grammar control actually gets right.

But I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent there, haven’t I? Back to passed or past. In this case, it’s not a question of remembering some bizarre mnemonic device. You simply need to look at how the word is used in the sentence and you’ll be fine. First, let’s define the words.



Looking at these definitions, there is an obvious difference that will eliminate mistakes 95% of the time. Past is an adjective, noun, or preposition whereas as passed is a verb. Look at your sentence, if you are using past as the past tense of (to) pass, it’s an easy fix as passed is the past tense of pass and not past. The trouble arrives when past is used as an adverb or preposition. But just remember, prepositions and adverbs are nouns as well.

Remember diagramming sentences? Don’t worry, I won’t make you diagram a complete sentence, but it is helpful to be able to determine the subject and verb. (Okay, that is part of diagramming a sentence, but I said I wouldn’t make you diagram a complete sentence and this is only step 1.) Because past is many things, but never a verb.

Let’s look at some simple examples: Is it past or passed?

I walked past the post office.

Determine the subject and verb. I is the subject. Walked is the verb. In this case, past is a preposition and therefore past is correct.

The danger had past.

The danger is the subject. The verb is had past. Past is not a correct past perfect form of the verb to pass. (FYI: every past tense form of to pass is passed) Therefore, past should be passed. The danger had passed.

I am not a grammer geek. Really, I’m not. I make just as many mistakes as the other writers, but I do try to learn from not only my mistakes but mistakes from others as well. Write on …



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  1. If you’ve got enough sense to ask the question about whether it should be past or passed, you know the answer. Sadly, many people don’t even know that they have to ask the question.

    1. I find it sad that so many bestselling authors don’t know to ask the question. Of course, that could be the green-eyed monster rearing her head. Haven’t managed to tame her yet.

      1. I’m not so much worried that they don’t know, but that no one in the whole process knows. Surely an editor or a proof-reader should pick it up. Even if I typed the wrong one in haste and then missed it the next time I went through the typescript my proofreader would notice it.

          1. I think that’s where the trouble starts. There have been fads in education over the years that have leaned towards ‘you don’t need to be able to spell or understand grammar in order to write and be understood’. I only wish those people had had to work their way through the many incomprehensible documents I had to read during my working life.

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