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Past vs. Passed

by Weston Kincade on 10/20/13

A fairly common problem I encounter when editing a new writer’s book is confusion about the usage of two words, past and passed. Determining when each should be used is based on the context of your sentence because the two words are actually different parts of speech. Let me explain.



Past is an adjective (descriptive word) and refers to a time that has happened before. Merriam-Webster defines it as “having existed or taken place in a period before the present.”

Usage example:

Laura couldn’t identify the past event that started her fear of clowns, but she knew she hated them.

Here past is modifying the noun event, hence why adjectives are also called modifiers.



Passed is a verb (action word) used to describe the act of leaving something behind. Merriam-Webster defines it as “to move in a path so as to approach and continue beyond something.”

Usage example:

We passed the cop going sixty over and knew we were in big trouble.

Overcoming the Confusion

While verbs are identifiable as action words, if you are still having trouble determining if you should use past or passed, you can always ask yourself the question, Passed what? The answer to this question is a particular part of speech called a direct object. In the last example, our direct object is the cop. If after reading your sentence the answer is clear, then your word is a verb and should be spelled passed.  

Let me know if you have any other questions involving past vs. passed.

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