Grammar 101: Begging the Question

English can be a very tricky language, even for people who consider it to be their native tongue. There are all sorts of nuances, rules, and exceptions to every rule. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, you’re told that you made yet another error. We’ve all been there. And yes, even professional writers make some mistakes from time to time.

While I don’t believe that I have any trouble discriminating between then and than, I know that I have had my share of struggles with past and passed. It certainly doesn’t help that the pronunciation of these two words is essentially the same. There are some circumstances where it’s relatively easy to know which word to use, but there are so many other circumstances where the choice isn’t as clear.

“Passed” Is a Verb

The word “passed” is generally the past tense version of the verb to pass. It is an “action word” that refers to the very acting of passing.

For instance, you could say that Tom Brady passed the football to Deion Branch. You could also say that after studying so hard, you hope that you passed your English exam. Just as you can pass the time by reading a book, you could say that you passed the time by playing video games. By the same accord, you could say that the Pontiac passed the Ford as it was driving down the road

“Past” Has Multiple Uses

And this is where it can get much more confusing. Whereas the definition for “passed” is reasonably straightforward, such cannot be said about the word “past.” This is because this word can be used in a variety of different ways. It can take on the role of several parts of speech. As such a versatile word, “past” comes up in a number of different circumstances.

“Past” can be used as an adjective, describing something that happened some time ago or, in some contexts, some distance ago. For example, you could refer to the past players for the Vancouver Canucks. Even the term “past tense” makes use of past as an adjective; it’s a word adding an attribute to the noun tense.

“Past” can also be used as a noun. Using the hockey example above, you would say that these players played for the Vancouver Canucks at some point in the past. This refers to some time that happened before the present.

“Past” can be used as a preposition, referring to something beyond in time or space. Instead of saying that it is “five-thirty” (5:30), you could say that it is half past five. In regards to location, you could say that 2nd Avenue is one block past 3rd Avenue. Used as an adverb, you could say that the Mustang drove past the Civic on the way to the store.

Some Confusing Examples

Just as you may have some trouble choosing between lose and loose in some circumstances, choosing between “past” and “passed” can also present its fair share of challenges. Here are a few examples:

Correct: You have to get past the price tag and look at quality.
Incorrect: You have to get passed the price tag and look at quality.

Correct: Two years have passed since Obama took office.
Incorrect: Two years have past since Obama took office.

Correct: I had pho for lunch this past weekend.
Incorrect: I had pho for lunch this passed weekend.

Correct: Princess Diana passed away in 1997.
Incorrect: Princess Diana past away in 1997.

Correct: It is now past the trade deadline.
Incorrect: It is now passed the trade deadline.

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