Writing Wednesday: passed vs. past

RedpenWhile grading a student essay recently, I came across a sentence like this: “My friend past by me.” It’s easy to overlook the spelling mistake in this sentence, so let’s take a moment to figure out the difference between passed and past.

The easiest way to distinguish between the two is to remember that passed is a verb. Therefore, the student really should have written, “My friend passed by me.”

The word past can be several parts of speech: adverb, adjective, preposition, and noun. Notice that it is not used as a verb.

  • Adverb: “Several hours went past before my friend called back.” (Past modifies the verb went.)
  • Adjective: “These past few months have been really cold.” (Past modifies the noun months.)
  • Preposition: “We walked past the store.” (Noticed the prepositional phrasepast the store.)
  • Noun: “In the past, we discussed the difference between it’s and its.” (Past is a noun here because it’s the object of the preposition in.)
     

In review: “The stranger passed by me” is not to be confused with “The stranger walked past me.”

As my grade school teachers used to say, “Clear as mud?”

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