When to Use “Passed” vs “Past”: Definitions and Examples

Remember the feeling of checking a result from the college board? You are overwhelmed, your legs and hands shaking from anxiety. You try your best to remain composed, as your professor admonishes.

Once a congratulations is mouthed, you cannot contain yourself. You hurriedly leave the office as you excitedly text your friends. Suddenly, confusion sets in as you type “I past!” I just doesn’t sound right! Is it ‘I passed’ or ‘I past,’ you mutter?

Trust me, this question comes up all the time. It relates to homonyms, which are words that look similar to each other but have different meanings. Past and passed are homonyms just like there and their.

We’re here to help you get past the confusion. Let’s explore the difference between past and passed so you never mix them up again.

What is the Meaning of Past and Passed?

Past means time or events that have already happened. Passed is the past tense of the verb to pass or pass. It means an event or action has been completed.

For example,

She finally passed the cooking test, leaving all her failures in the past.

Knowing the difference between past and passed is the first step to understanding how to use them.

See also: “Over” vs “More Than”: How to Use Both Correctly as a Writer

Definition of Past

In the usage of the word past, it can function as many parts of speech. In each of these cases, it has different meanings for each part of speech but the most common use is as a noun. As a noun, past means an earlier time or era.

Past can function as an noun, adjective, adverb, or preposition.

Past as a Noun

As a noun, past means an earlier period of time.

For example;

Cars were more affordable in the past.

Past as an Adjective

When past is describes a noun, it means gone by in time.


In past winters, we’d go to Target to get some warm clothes.

Past as an Adverb

The word past is a common adverb that describes a verb or adjective. The meaning is passing from one side of something to the other.


Grand worked past his unbelief in the project.

Past as a preposition

Lastly, when used as a preposition, it means to tell time or to refer to a time beyond a particular point or stage.


It is half past seven o’clock.

The butter was past its expiration date.

The definition of passed

Passed is the past tense and past participle of pass. It only functions as a verb because of this. However, it has different meanings that we will list below.

They are to;

  • Move or proceed
  • Go away
  • Be transferred
  • Go from one state of being to another
  • Throw or kick (a ball)
  • Die (in religious terms)
  • Give up control
  • Decline to speak or bid
  • Be confirmed as a law or rule

One unifier for all the meanings of passed above as it indicates an action that has already happened. The -ed suffix to the verb pass makes it a past tense.

The verb pass, when used in the present tense, would look like this: I will pass the ball to you.

If you substituted the word pass for passed, I passed the ball to you, it signifies that this happened previously.

Some examples of this are:

  • I passed my entry-level exam.
  • Time really passed quickly today.
  • Jane passed the ball and I scored a goal!

See also: Dialog vs Dialogue | Meaning, Examples & Difference

Past vs. passed

These two words are commonly confused; therefore, we will provide a trick that will make the difference stick. For past and passed, remember that passed is always used as a verb. Past is never a verb.

Both words have to do with time and movement.

Rule: Try to identify if a word is a verb or not. If you can, you will know which usage is correct.

Past vs. passed examples

Examples of past;

She liked to reminisce about the past and recall happier times.

They couldn’t move past the fact their sister drowned.

Ada’s past year of intense study has turned her into a real expert.

I think we’re past the point of no return.

Examples with passed;

My grandmother passed last year.

He passed the baton to his young and talented predecessor.

Fear passed through the crowd with a few minutes remaining in the game.

See also: When to Use ‘Its’ and ‘It’s’: Cracking the Code

Past vs. passed FAQs

What does past mean?

Past has different meanings depending on the part of speech it is used. Generally, it means the time that has already happened before the point of speech.

What does passed mean?

Past means to move or proceed, to die, to go away, or to be transferred.

What’s the difference between past and passed?

Past refers to time or events that have already happened, while passed is the past tense of the verb pass and means completed actions or events.


The words, past vs passed, are two words that cause a lot of confusion in the English language. Passed is used as a verb, past is not used as a verb. Use this to remember the difference. If you are ever stuck, ask yourself, is it a verb? If the answer is yes, you know it is passed. Happy learning!