Grammar Hammer passed vs past

I received the following #GrammarGripe from a regular Grammar Hammer reader:

“Is there an easy way to distinguish between ‘past’ and ‘passed,’ as in ‘Nothing gets ____ me’?”

Great question, dear reader. I could show you a dozen examples of this; half would likely be correct and the other half incorrect.

Let’s take a look at the differences between each word and where the confusion comes from.

Passed is the past tense and past participle of the verb “to pass.”

On the other hand, Past can be used as a noun, an adjective, an adverb, or a preposition:

  • As a noun, “past” means a period of time that has gone by, that is already completed.
  • As an adjective, it means completed, done with, or over.
  • As an adverb and a preposition, it means “beyond” or denotes movement from one side of a reference to the other. Remember: Adverbs modify verbs; prepositions note a spatial, temporal, or other relationship.

These two words trip up some writers because “passed” can mean “to move past” something. For instance, in the sentence “The cat passed the dog and hissed,” passed is saying the cat moved past the dog.

Quick Tip: If you want to test whether or not “passed” is appropriate to use in a sentence, try substituting “moved past” or “went past” in its place.

Do the below sentences still make sense if you replace “passed” with “went past”? If the sentence doesn’t make sense, “passed” is the wrong word choice.

Example #1: “I passed the park on my way to the store.”

Example #2: “I ran passed the park on my way to the store.”

In the first example, “I passed the park…” and “I went past the park…” both make sense. “Passed” is appropriate to use here.

However, if you substitute “went past” for “passed” in the second example, the sentence would read “I ran went past the park…” “Passed” is not correct to use in this sentence. The correct way to write this sentence is “I ran past the park on my way to the store.”

This takes us back to our original question of how to complete the sentence “Nothing gets ____ me.” Given what we know now, the word you should use is “past.”

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