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While we all understand the failings of spell check, I've seen more than my share of proof. Let me show a recent example. I saw something like this in a recent client manuscript:

He past the grocery store on the way to the library.

According to spell check, this sentence is fine. True, all of the words are spelled correctly, but that's not the problem. The issue is a relatively common one—the confusion of past and passed. But keeping a few things in mind can prevent this same mistake.

Passed: The Past Tense Verb
When your sentence requires a verb, you'll need passed rather than past. Passed is the past participle form of the verb “to pass.”

There are a few other uses for passed that probably add to the confusion a bit, but I suspect most people are familiar with them. Here are a few examples:

  • Noun (when asked to be respectful of the passed, it is referring to a person or people who have passed away)
  • Adjective (anyone familiar with baseball will recognize the term “passed ball”)

Past in Different Parts of Speech
This is where the differentiation may become confusing. While passed is generally used in one part of speech (verb) with only a few exceptions, past is a bit more versatile. Consider the following ways past can be used.
  • A noun referring to time gone by or something that happened during that time: David often idealized the past.
  • An adjective meaning gone by in time or having taken place in some period before the present: Her past experience in the field placed her ahead of her colleagues.
  • An adverb that refers to reaching beyond a point near at hand: The children stared as Mike walked past.
  • A preposition meaning beyond or after: We drove past the theater.

Confusion with Passed and Past
Writers often confuse passed and past, as in the sentence at the beginning of this post:

He past the grocery store on the way to the library.

If you have any doubts regarding which one to use, try rewriting the sentence in present tense. If you find you're using pass or passes, then your sentence requires the the past participle form of to pass:

He passed the grocery store on the way to the library.

However, if you aren't using any forms of the verb to pass, then you should be using past instead, as in one of the previous examples:

We drove past the theater.


 
 
Monday's post was not meant to begin a series, but after discussing one grammar myth, I thought of others. So it makes sense to share them within reasonable proximity of one another with a few breaks. To avoid overkill, this short series will only only cover the most well-known ones that you are most likely to use in your writing. And, as the title implies, the second grammar is ending sentences with prepositions.

Trying to avoid beginning with a conjunction often leads to either long rambling sentences or short choppy ones. However, attempting to end certain sentences without a closing preposition can result in a narrative that is awkward at best and always appears forced. I've handled manuscripts where clients went to great lengths to keep prepositions away from the end of a sentence, which resulted in difficult reading. Writing these passages couldn't have been fun either. So hopefully this will allow you to write as the words they flow, rather than forcing awkward passages.

When You Can End a Sentence with a Preposition
I'll avoid going into the reasons why it's acceptable to end sentences with prepositions. After all, you're here for tips to improve your writing, not to read an online grammar textbook. So let's focus on
when you can rather than why.

1. Questions: Consider the following example.

What did you step in?

Obviously, you can't remove the preposition entirely. Yes, you could rewrite it as “In what did you step?” But that would be awkward and stand out, interrupting the flow of the text. Besides that, people don't talk like this, particularly a parent trying to clean some unknown substance from Junior's shoes.

2. Phrasal verbs: Questions are often exceptions to rules because of their structure. However, since this is a grammar myth rather than a rule with an exception, let's look at a few more examples. When discussing ending sentences with prepositions, it's impossible not to address phrasal verbs.

A phrasal verb, also called a compound verb, is made up of two or more words, often a verb and a preposition (
examples: wake up, look after, leave off, etc.), as in the following:

She would not wake up.

This is a perfectly acceptable sentence. Furthermore, you cannot restructure it to eliminate the final preposition.

3. Other sentences: Of course, some sentences that do not use phrasal verbs can end with a preposition.

Jack did not know where Lizzy came from.

Do you really want to write, “Jack did not know from where Lizzy came”? For most cases like this, ending with a preposition will simply avoid awkward, pedantic structures.

Formal Writing
In situations where writing is expected to be formal, you will probably want to adhere to the myth since so many people believe it is true and will judge you based on it. You can always point out that it is a myth later.

Conclusion
Ultimately, writing is about communication. Always choose words that will help you communicate most effectively and efficiently.