Common Grammar Errors in English: Contrary to what many believe, past and last cannot be used interchangeably. They are used to describe different conditions of an event with regards to a particular period or phase of time.
While talking about past events, many people can be found confused between past and last. Contrary to what many believe, past and last cannot be used interchangeably. They are used to describe different conditions of an event with regard to a particular period or phase of time.
Let’s take a look at the following examples.
- I’ve been waiting for you for the last two hours. (incorrect)
- I’ve been waiting for you for the past two hours. (correct)
But look at the following examples.
- Although he started off really slow, he managed to catch up with the goal in the last three sessions. (not past three sessions)
- Although he bowled quite badly at the beginning of the innings, he managed to pick up five wickets in the last two overs. (not past two overs)
Last: We use last when we want to talk about a period of time which is the final phase of a certain activity or event.
Past: We use past when we want to talk about a period of time that has just gone by recently.
So, if you’re talking about waiting for someone (as shown in the examples above), it’s correct to use the past two hours since you mean the period (two hours) that has just gone by.
You cannot use the last two hours since it’s not a phase of any event. In fact, the only event here is waiting for two hours. In other words, those two hours are the period of time which has just gone by waiting for your friend.
Some more examples…
In his last three years, he wrote two biographies. (described to talk about a person who has passed)
Last Year vs Past Year
Last year means the last calendar year, for example, 2015 (if you’re in 2016).
Past year means the 365 days preceding today. For example, if it was 14th Feb, 2016 today, then the past year would mean the time between 15th Feb, 2015 and 14th Feb, 2016.
He completed his MBA last year (for example 2015) but he’s been looking for a job for the past year. (for example, from 4th of July, 2015 until 3rd of July, 2016)
This Passed Year vs This Past Year
One of the most incorrectly used phrases in English is “this passed year”. Many users who commit this error believe “passed” has the same meaning as “past”, but that’s incorrect.
Here are some examples of incorrect usage:
- You’re passed your bedtime. (incorrect)
- You’re past your bedtime. (correct)
- The popular actor past away. (incorrect)
- The popular actor passed away. (correct)
- He bought these shoes this passed weekend. (incorrect)
- I bought these shoes this past weekend. (correct)
- He walked passed the danger line. (incorrect)
- He walked past the danger line. (correct)
- The Uber drove passed its destination. (incorrect)
- The Uber drove past its destination. (correct)
- Sam got passed the finish line in record time. (incorrect)
- Sam got past the finish line in record time. (correct)
As you can see “Passed” and “Past” both share the same sound and this is probably why “passed” is often incorrectly used.
Grammatically speaking, ‘pass’ is a verb that has a range of meanings depending on the context. Let’s take a look at a few examples below:
- Sandra passed the exam with distinction. (succeed in a test, past tense)
- I’ve passed your notes to your friend. (hand over, present perfect)
- My boss passed by me without giving me a glance. (go past something)
- Sometimes I feel life is passing me by. (leave someone behind)
As you can see in the third example mentioned above, ‘passed’ often can mean to “move past” and indicates the motion of a person or an object.
Similarly, the word “past” has a wide range of meanings including ‘time before the present.
- She has achieved a lot in the past two years. (adjective)
- There’s no point in looking at your past. (noun)
However, ‘past’ can also be used as an adverb or a preposition as well.
- He ran past. (beyond, adverb)
- Mike walked past the door. (beyond, preposition)
This is exactly where many get confused and end up saying “passed” when they actually mean “past”.
It can be confusing for many since, in some cases, both variations are possible.
Look at the following examples:
You have passed the bedtime = You are past the bedtime.
However, in natural speech or writing, it sounds awkward to say, “you have passed the bedtime”.
What did we learn?
Whenever you’re confused about whether “he walked past or passed the door”, remember “walk past” as a phrasal verb.
Similarly, don’t say “this passed weekend” when you mean to say “this past weekend”.
Confused about whether she will “get past or passed the finish line”? Apply the same logic as advised in the first example.
I hope this post clarifies your doubts. If you find this post useful, share it with your friends.