"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I recently received an email about edits and then the same topic came up with a student I am tutoring. I realized this is a common issue and wanted to share. Here is an excerpt:
Dear Sylvia,
I've been working on edits from my publisher…It's hard for me to argue word usage, when they've changed a word to something else, because I'm not always sure about it. But I'm pretty sure I've been using the word PASSED correctly, and they've been changing it to the word PAST.
Here's an example: ...she couldn't come passed a certain point to my house…So, is the word PASSED, or PAST?

This is actually a common problem and I'll do my best to explain the difference.
Passed - refers to a physical location or object in the past tense. ex. "The weeks passed quickly", "I passed my exams" or " "I just passed Elm St."
Past - refers to a location in time or space. ex. "My house is the one just past the church", "The ball sped past me" or "In the past, standards were higher".
So, ... ”she couldn't come passed a certain point to my house” should be PAST. However, you might consider switching the sentence around to make it more active.... "I would not allow her to pass..." or some such. Of course since I'm seeing this out of context, you will know best what works for your text. I hope this helps
Have you found yourself facing this problem? What other words or usage gives you pause when writing?


Paula Martin said...

Good explanation, Sylvia. Passed is a verb. Past can be a noun (in the past), adjective (past history) adverb (the parade marched past) or preposition (he walked past the church).
Always bugs me when I see either passed or past used wrongly.

Anonymous said...

Normally, I don't have a problem with similar words (had it hammered home by my Mom). But I've seen brake for break; affect, effect (I personally hate these two); lose, loose; proceed, precede; berth, birth; and there are a bunch more, but I want to give someone else a chance to respond.

Southpaw said...

This one isn't a problem for me but a refresher is always nice.

Lisa said...

Thank you!!!! It bugs me so much to see mistakes like this in published works, and you explained it beautifully :) Great, useful post

Lorelei Bell said...

I have this post put on my favorites list, so that I can look at it when I'm unsure.

My other one is lay, lie, lain. What I've done is taken sentencesfrom books, and written them into a small notebook to double check the use. So far I've been doing THIS right. And when I'm not sure, I just change it so I don't have to use it at all!

Thanks for posting this, Sylvia *wink*

anthony stemke said...

SYLVIA: Nice refresher here, as usual your post is very interesting.

Beverly Diehl said...

Good lesson, another one I shake my head at. I try not to be too obnoxiously judgmental - I have my spelling and grammar issues, too - but sometimes, I just can't get past it. ;-)

Kittie Howard said...

Thanks for sharing in a way that works! I don't have a problem with these grammatical buddies, thanks to a great English teacher in a small Louisiana town. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

shelly said...

Excellent post!

Susan Kane said...

Good points. It drives me crazy when I see: there, their, they're. I am livid when publications use an apostrophe s instead of writing a plural: legacy's of my life vs. legacies of my life. Grrrrr.

Jemi Fraser said...

As a teacher, I get so frustrated when I see some of these mixed up. Good explanation! :)

Denise Covey said...

I'm often amazed at wrong word useage, being an English teacher. I think a lot of it has to do with a new generation not being immersed in the rudiments of grammar.