Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Editing for Grammarphobes: Past versus Passed


Hi my grammar go-to girl. I have a problem. In garden magazines the phrase, "until danger of frost has past" is used extensively. My fellow editor insists it is "has passed." I think I am right and have found several examples in books/websites. Who do you think is right?

--Michelle Byrne Walsh 


Well, Michelle, indeed there are two camps of thought on this question and various websites and blogs posting differing views. I could not find anything in my usual Bibles, also known as The Elements of Style, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, so I looked the words up in the dictionary to gain insight on their original intent.

Passed is the past tense of pass, which means “to go by.” It is always a verb.

The word past can be used as an adjective, noun, preposition or adverb. Past, as an adjective, means “(1) ago; (2) just gone or elapsed; or (3) of, relating to, or constituting a verb tense that is expressive of elapsed time...” according to the Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

As an adverb, Dictionary.com states that past means “beyond and refers to movement from one side of a reference to another.”

There is a fine line between the two, so I understand your colleague’s opinion that the phrase “until danger of frost has passed” connotes “going by.”

However, since you are really referring to the time of the frost being over, or moving beyond the time of frost, I think past would be the more correct term. Consequently, I believe the phrase should read "until danger of frost has past."

Hope this helps. Thank you for your question.


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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! You are the best. --Michelle

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

You are very welcome.

llevinso said...

Past and passed has ALWAYS given me trouble. Makes me feel so stupid :(

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

It's really tricky. I spent quite awhile researching and figuring this out. Don't feel bad.

Deborah said...

Oh dear, I'm going to disagree. I think that "has passed" is correct, and equally, it would be "winter is past." Past is used as a verb-form adjective, not a verb. Cat among pigeons, sorry!

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

It's okay, Deborah. That is why I wanted to post this. I thought it might spark an interesting conversation. If you think "winter is past" would be correct, then you are agreeing with us more than you might believe, because you are talking about something whose season is gone or elapsed, like what Michelle and I suggest.

This one does not seem to be set in stone, that is certain.

Thanks for reading.