Using Passed vs Past

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The homonyms 'past' and 'passed' can be easily confused for each other, as they sometimes also have similar meanings, but remembering their parts of speech can eliminate this confusion.

Speeding Past

That car just went speeding past me on the highway! And he also just passed me, going way too fast.

'Past' and 'passed' are often mistaken for each other for a few reason. First, they are homonyms, words that sound alike but have different spelling and meanings. And not only that, but in some cases, such as our example at the top, they can have similar, but not identical, meanings.

The easiest way to know which word to use is by understanding their parts of speech. A part of speech is a word's job, the function it plays in a sentence. 'Passed,' for example is a verb, or action word. 'Past' can have many jobs: it can be a noun (person, place or thing), adjective (word that describes a noun), preposition (a word that shows relationship between parts of a sentence), and adverb (word that describes a verb or adjective).

So let's take a look at the jobs of both of these words.

The British patrol car passed by the armored vehicle. And it also went past it.

Passed By Me

'Passed' is the past tense form of the verb 'pass', meaning it is used whenever the action is happening in the past. And the verb 'pass' has two distinct but related meanings.

The first definition of 'pass' is to go through a place in a specific direction. This can be a literal, physical movement or a more metaphorical movement.

  • He passed from town to town looking for his lost father.
  • The traffic passed slowly through the town.
  • I passed third grade and moved on to fourth.

And the second definition is to go by something, leaving it behind:

  • We just passed a gas station a few miles ago.
  • We passed by San Antonio on our way to El Paso.
  • The car just passed by me, going way to fast.

As you can see from the last sentence, it is this definition we were using in our opening example. So now let's turn our attention to 'past'.

Speeding Past Me

In our opening example, 'past' is being used as a preposition to show the relationship between 'the car' and 'me'

  • The car went speeding past me.

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