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2 min read
Lea Mitchell
September 29, 2023
Reading time
2 min read

The difference between "past" and "passed"

In the English language, the words "past" and "passed" often perplex learners due to their sound similarity. This article clarifies their distinct roles, especially for German speakers learning English.
The difference between "past" and "passed"

The difference between "past" and "passed"

English, with its myriad of similar-sounding words with divergent meanings, poses unique challenges for learners worldwide. "Past" and "passed" stand out as two such words. Despite their auditory resemblance, their usages vastly differ. This article delves into the differences between these two words, aiming to clarify their intricacies for Germans learning English.

"Past" defined

"Past" is a chameleon in English, donning the roles of a noun, preposition, and sometimes even an adjective or adverb. Each usage offers a unique meaning:

Past as a noun: Refers to a time gone by, or a time earlier than the present.

Example: "In the past, people relied on letters to communicate over long distances."

Woman writing a letter

Past as a preposition: Indicates movement beyond a specific point in space or time.

Example: "He walked past the bakery without stopping."


Past as an adjective: Describes a period that has ended or something that no longer exists.

Example: "The past president of the company implemented those changes."


Past as an adverb: Highlights the position or location of something relative to another.

Example: "The car drove past." 

Two cars driving past each other

"Passed" explained

"Passed" is simply the past tense of the verb "pass." With "pass" encompassing various meanings, "passed" showcases similar versatility:

Movement: Indicates the act of moving in a specified direction.

Example: "She passed the ball to her teammate."

Basketball player passing a ball to teammate

Time: Refers to the lapse of time.

Example: "Several hours passed before we received any news."


Transition: Denotes a shift from one condition or state to another.

Example: "He passed away last night." (Passed away means he's no longer alive) or "The storm has passed." (The storm has passed means the storm is over).


Achievement: When related to tests or challenges, it signifies success.

Example: "I passed the driving test on my first try."

The confusion between "past" and "passed"

The phonetic closeness and the occasional thematic overlap between these words, especially around themes of movement or time, can muddy the waters. Let’s clarify:

Referring to time: When discussing a specific bygone time, "past" fits the bill. However, to emphasize the progression of time, "passed" is apt.

Past example: "It’s half past five."

Passed example: "Five minutes have passed since the meeting started.

Clock showing timelapse

Describing movement: Both words can describe movement beyond a point, but their structural presence in sentences varies.

Past example: "The cat ran past me."

Passed example: "The cat passed the dog in the race."

Tips for German speakers

Distinguishing between "past" and "passed" might evoke memories of certain German word pairs that challenge learners. Here are some useful pointers:

Focus on function: "Past" can manifest as a noun, preposition, adjective, or adverb, while "passed" always functions as a verb.

Context clues: The sentence's broader context can provide essential hints. If an action, especially movement, is in focus, "passed" is often the go-to choice.

Practice with phrases: Memorizing fixed phrases like "passed away" or "half-past" offers a contextual foundation, simplifying the choice between the two words.


Understanding the differences between "past" and "passed" exemplifies the broader linguistic journey that German speakers must take when learning English. It's not merely about expanding your English vocabulary. It involves understanding context and learning the subtleties of English grammar.

With study and practice, these nuances can be decoded, enabling more genuine and effective communication.