In current news, the tide of infection by the H1N1 virus may be abating. What does this have to do with words or writing? It provides an excellent example for clarifying the uses of past
. We are starting to hear reports that the worst of the flu may have past. Or is it passed? What about those who died as a result of the infection, have they passed or past?
Most of the confusion of these two words results from the fact that they are homonyms, words that sound alike. In reality, passed ends in a d
and past, with a t
. The pronunciation difference is subtle. More subtle, the older the hearer.
Rather than depend on your ears, think about the meaning of the word when you're faced with a choice. "Passed" is the past (sorry!) tense of the verb to pass
. "Past" is a word that connotes location, usually in time. Unfortunately the verb to pass
can have several meanings, and past
can be used as many parts of speech.
Several people died after contracting the flu. Have they past or passed. One meaning of the verb to pass is to die. The victims have passed (on). What about the wave of illness sweeping across the world? Has it passed or past, at least in the proposed country of origin, Mexico? While it probably passed by many families without infecting them, the greatest danger is past.
One technique for deciding which word to use: assume you're working with one of the meanings of the verb to pass
, and recast the sentence into the present tense, using the verb form pass or passes. For example: " Time [passed or past] him by." In the present, the right form must be "Time passes him by." I specifically chose to use "time" as the subject, because "past" can relate to time.
is used as a noun, adjective, adverb, or preposition, it always refers to something located behind, in back of, or previously. Passed
can indicate movement, extension, ending, happening, getting through, and have many other meanings that often involve some kind of motion or overcoming (like passing a test).
Labels: English, words
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