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.

The holidays are upon us, and since the holidays are about bringing friends and families together, I will be discussing a few grammar and punctuation topics that involve bringing elements together. So while not in the spirit of the holidays in the strictest sense, the formation of compound words combines two or more otherwise separate words into one. So let's have a look at compound words and hyphenation, shall we?

Hyphenation Rules?
Whenever you discuss the formation of compound words, hyphenation rules are somewhere in the mix. Anyone familiar with hyphenation rules knows they can be a headache since there is no definitive set of rules regarding hyphenation and the formation of compound words. So knowing whether to hyphenate a compound, combine the two elements into one, or keep them separate can be tricky. I know from my own experience and because I have seen so many inappropriately hyphenated words in client manuscripts. Consulting the appropriate style manual for the industry you write for may at least provide a guideline. However, if you don't have one available or are not sure which one you need, keep the following guidelines in mind.

Permanent Compounds
Permanent compounds are so frequently used that they have been accepted into the general vocabulary. Compound words such as
prime minister, headache, high school, city-state, and others are examples of permanent compounds. Many are so common that most writers will know whether to hyphenate them, separate them, or combine them into one word. If there is any question about how to spell them, you can find them in an online or up-to-date print dictionary.

Temporary Compounds
The area where I see fellow writers struggle most is formation of temporary compounds. A temporary compound is a combination created for a specific purpose. Many of these temporary compounds serve as adjectives or adverbs called compound modifiers, adjectival or adverbial phrases of two or more words. When a compound modifier appears before the noun, the compound modifier is often hyphenated to prevent misunderstanding, like
much-needed clothing. Hyphenating the the compound modifier in this phrase clarifies that the clothing is needed badly, rather than abundant but also needed. However, if the compound modifier appears after the the noun, do not hyphenate (the clothing was much needed).

Hyphenation is not usually used for adverb-adjective compound modifiers when ambiguity regarding meaning is not possible. For instance, with the phrase
wholly owned subsidiary, confusion as to its meaning is unlikely since wholly clearly modifies the adjective owned and not the noun subsidiary. Note: A compound modifier with an -ly adverb should always be left open.

Ultimately, the best way to assure correct hyphenation when forming compound words is to consult your industry style guide since they have rules for various combinations (adjective-participle, noun-noun, etc.) and exceptions with certain terms. However, if that's not possible, use the above guidelines and you'll be right most of the time.