Confusing words: passed, past

Passed and past are confusing words because they are homophones (they sound the same but have different meanings). Here’s the difference:

Passed is the past form of the verb pass. It means ‘go by something or near it without stopping’:

  • Jim passed me without saying hello. (He didn’t stop.)
  • We passed Big Ben on our boat trip down the Thames. (We saw Big Ben but didn’t stop there.)

Pass can also mean ‘do an exam successfully’:

  • He passed all his exams last month.

Past isn’t a verb but it can be each of the following:

  • A noun, meaning ‘previous time, before now’: Forget the past, look at the present and the future.
  • An adjective, meaning ‘previous’: The politician didn’t want to discuss his past life and jobs.
  • A preposition, meaning ‘beyond, after’: The bank is just past the supermarket, on the right.

Here are some more examples:

  • The past month has been hard for everyone.  
  • You can learn a lot from the past and from your experiences.
  • I’ve just got my exam results but I haven’t passed any of them. 
  • She walked past me but said nothing. 
  • She passed me but said nothing.

Finally, here’s a quick test. See how well you can differentiate between passed and past!

questions go herescoregoes here

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Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.


  1. ALWYN VINAY FERNANDES - November 25, 2012, 6:26 pm Reply

    hello sir,

    I’m from mumbai india where we are treated as minorities,because this is a hindu country. Although I’m a engineer,I can’t speak in english,because my mother toungue is konkanni.I can speak in hindi,marati,tulu,kannada,konkanni,malayalam and telugu.

    I like to speak in english,but …people start laughing when…i say kenute music system(kenwood) This happened when I was in college.
    Now luckily I found you.

    Sir,can you help me ? If I speak fluently……then sky is the limit.Because I,m a good Speaker (subject no matter) I just want to tell the people in english,instead of L O C A L indian language.
    Thanks,May God bless You and UR family. WISH YOU MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR 2013.

    • benazira - December 2, 2012, 11:09 am Reply

      hi this is benazira from afghanistan,kandahar i really want to learn english better


  2. benazira - December 2, 2012, 11:21 am Reply

    whats difference betwwen she is been doing and she is done

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