If you are referring to a distance or a period of time before now, use “past”: “the police car drove past the suspect’s house” (distance) or “the team performed well in the past” (time). If you are describing the action of passing, however, you need to use “passed”: “when John passed the gravy, he spilled it on his lap,” “the teacher was astonished that none of the students had passed the test,” “after a brief illness, he passed away.” Remember that no matter however you have “passed the time” you have never “past the time,” not even in the distant past.
“Past” can be an adjective, a noun, a preposition, or an adverb, but never a verb. If you need to write the past tense of the verb “to pass,” use “passed.”
This is the ten-year anniversary of the Common Errors in English Usage calendar. To celebrate, we are bringing back some of our favorite interesting, funny, but sometimes merely silly entries through the years before going on hiatus in 2016.
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