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Past versus passed

Posted by Wendy Wood on 29th July , 2020 in Grammar
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As my husband and I get older, we’re finding it quite helpful to turn the closed captioning on when we’re watching television. It had got to the point where we were constantly asking each other what an actor had just said. Then we’d both miss the next line.

But have you ever noticed how many mistakes there are in the captioning? It’s frustrating to start watching a great movie and get distracted by grammatical errors in the subtitles.

Last night while watching a movie from my husband’s favourite genre, B movies, it was painfully obvious the subtitles were generated by a machine rather than a human.

I don’t recall exactly what the actor said – heck, I don’t even remember the name of the movie – or recall what showed up in the subtitles, but it was something along the lines of “the time has long past for us to do that.”

Now, the word past can be used as several different parts of speech. But, as you can see, none of the definitions involve using past as a verb.

past:  adjective. 1. gone by in time.
2. belonging to, or having existed or occurred in time previous to this.
3. gone by just before the present time; just passed: the past year.
          noun. 1. the time gone by: far back in the past.
2. the events of that time: to forget the past.
         adverb. So as to pass by or beyond; by: the troops marched past.
        preposition. Beyond in time, position, amount.

The word that should have been used in the subtitle is past’s trusty little homophone, passed. I think the confusion comes from each word’s definition containing the other word. Language is tricky like that.

pass: verb. 1. to go by or move past (something).
2. to undergo successfully (an examination, etc.).
noun. 1. a way affording passage, as through an obstructed region.
2. a permission or licence to pass, go, come, or enter.

I think the easiest way to remember the difference between past and passed is to use this sentence: The long ago past has passed long ago.

Wendy Wood


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