Past, Passed

How Not to Look Past Passed Errors by Not Looking Passed Past Errors

by Owen Fourie

[There are deliberate errors in the title, and these will be corrected later.]

Past and passed—two words that can stop you in your tracks! This could happen in three ways.

  1. You are walking down a street, and someone from your distant past sees you and walks toward you. That should be enough to root you to the spot.
  2. You are walking down a street, and you are passed by an extremely attractive person. This breathtaking sight roots you to the spot for a moment.
  3. You are sitting in an examination room writing a five-paragraph essay,  and you are not sure which homophone is correct—past or passed.

It’s the third situation that needs to be settled here. The following distinction between past and passed will help you.

If you are familiar with the parts of speech, you will find this easy to apply.


This word is used as an adjective, a noun, an adverb, and a preposition, but not as a verb.

As an adjective:

In the past year, they completed their research on the haunted houses in their city.

As a noun:

Their research uncovered many fascinating details of their city’s past.

As an adverb:

In their research in the old haunted house on Route 66, they were intrigued by a sensation they described as ghosts that brushed past.

As a preposition:

The haunted house on Route 66 is just past the library, and they arrived there at half past eleven.


This word is the past tense and past participle of the verb pass. [Note the adjectival use of past in the previous sentence.]

Before you pass the old haunted house on Route 66, call me.

They called me before they passed the old haunted house.

Before they had passed the old haunted house, strong gusts of wind had begun to buffet their car.

Sometimes, you will find passed used as an adjective:

a passed ball (in baseball and in softball)

Apply a test like this to help you to choose correctly

If you are unsure, try this test. Let’s change an earlier example for this purpose:


They felt the ghosts as they brushed passed.


Turn this sentence into the present tense:


They feel the ghosts as they brush pass.


You already have a verb in the word brush in the subordinate clause. Pass is a verb, too, so it doesn’t fit. Therefore, passed is also wrong. Use past.


They felt the ghosts as they brushed past.

They feel the ghosts as they brush past.

Past and Passed in the Title

Look at the title of this article again.

How Not to Look Past1 Passed2 Errors by Not Looking Passed3 Past4 Errors

How should this be corrected?

Apply the above pointers. You will see that past is used correctly both times, but passed is not. Passed has no place in the title.

Correctly, the title should be

How Not to Look Past5 Past6 Errors by Not Looking Past7 Past8 Errors

The meaning of the title is, simply, don’t overlook your errors; break the habit of wrong use and correct your errors. Use past and passed correctly.


1 adverb (correct)

2 past participle (incorrect; needs adjective past)

3 past participle (incorrect; needs adverb past)

4 adjective (correct)

5 adverb (correct)

6 adjective (correct)

7 adverb (correct)

8 adjective (correct)


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with homophones or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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