The word 'past' has many functions in the English language which may cause confusion. In this lesson, we will solve any uncertainty about this word.

How to Use "Past" in English?

'Past' can be used in many different ways. It can be a noun, a preposition, an adverb, and an adjective. In this lesson, we will discuss how to learn and use it.

Functions of 'Past'

'Past' as an Adjective


'Past' can be used as an adjective. Below, we are going to learn about the kinds of adjectives 'past' can be:

'Past' as an Attributive Adjective

'Past' has several meanings when it is used as an adjective. Let us see them below:

  • When we want to talk about something that happened previously, we use 'past':

Judging by her past exam, she will definitely lose the final one.

As you can see, 'past' is used before a noun.

Sally's mentor was ashamed of her past performance.

  • When we want to talk about the time period leading to the present, we use 'past':

Where have you been these past weeks?

Here, the sentence is talking about the recent weeks.

With all the financial crises, I wonder how people have been able to make ends meet these past years?

  • When something is over and has reached an end, we use 'past' to talk about it:

Autumns were more rainy in the past centuries.

Music in the past decades were more meaningful.

  • When someone has had an honor in the past or held a special social position, we use 'past' to refer to them:

George Bush is the past president of the United States of America.

Jack Nicolson is a past award-winner actor of Hollywood.

'Past' as a Predicative Adjective

We can also use 'past' after the noun it is modifying which is why we call it a predicative adjective. Take a look below:

  • When we want to use 'past' to indicate that something is over, we can use it after the noun. This one mostly comes with 'long':

This is a tradition from centuries long past.

It feels like it has happened years long past.

Position in a Sentence

As you already know, adjectives are used to modify nouns. Therefore, we can use them before or after the nouns they are modifying. Take a look:

Annabelle's past performance was better than this one.

It was long past sunrise when my mother finally woke up.

'Past' as a Preposition


'Past' can be used as different types of prepositons. Below, we will analyze how it functions as different prepositions:

'Past' as a Preposition of Time

We can use 'past' to indicate the time of the action taking place. It is used when we want to refer to a time later than a particular one. So, it is a preposition of time. Study the following examples:

It is already half past 1.

Here, it means that it is 1:30.

Look, it is past midnight and we're still out in the middle of nowhere.

'Past' as a Preposition of Place

We can also use 'past' as a preposition of place. It is used to talk about going further than a specific place. Study the following examples:

A : Where can I find a drug store nearby?

B : Just walk straight. There is one a few blocks past that school.

My father was driving so fast that we went past the village we wanted to stay in for the night.

Position in a Sentence

There are no limitations as to where we can put prepositional phrases in a sentence. We can begin a sentence with them, put them in the middle, or at the end of the sentences. Study the following examples carefully:

Past that hospital over there, you can find the musical institute you are looking for.

It was too late, way past midnight, to do anything other than sleeping.

Don't you think it's better to tell her that the garage is past that drug store?


Please note that whenever we put the prepositional phrase at the beginning, we must always put a comma after it. Also when we use a prepositional phrase in the middle of the sentence, we must always put it between two commas.

'Past' as an Adverb


'Past' can be used as an adverb in different ways. Below, we will analyze all of them:

'Past' as an Adverb of Movement

When we want to show that we are moving past a person, or a place, we use 'past' as an adverb of movement. Please note that we must have an action verb to show the movement. Look:

  • When we want to indicate that we are moving beyond a particular person or place, we can use 'past' to do so.

She just looked at me in the eye and then walked past.

As you can see, the sentence is showing a movement beyond a particular place.

My friends waved at me and drove past.

  • When we want to show that someone is making progress beyond a stage, or level:

It seems that Mike cannot make it past and he's stuck in this level.

Apparently, there's nothing Hercules cannot get past.

'Past' as an Adverb of Time

When we want to indicate that time is passing by, we can use 'past' as an adverb of time. Take a look at the following examples:

When we watch a movie together, time seems to fly past.

Several days went past and she is not feeling any better.

Position in a Sentence

We mainly put adverbials after the main verb to show the manner of the action that took place. If the verb is transitive, then we put the adverbial after the direct object. Take a look at the following examples:

Whenever I'm with you, it feels like time flies past.

My mother gave me the keys and drove her friend past.

Here, 'drive' is a transitive verb.

'Past' as a Noun


When we want to talk about someone's past life, we use 'past' as a noun. Let us study the following examples:

You shouldn't occupy your mind with the past honey.

In the past, I remember not being confident enough to talk in front of a group of people.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'past' here is used as a noun, we can put it anywhere in the sentence. Please note that when it is at the beginning or in the middle of the sentence, we must use commas. Take a look below:

I remember, in the past, Anna was happier.

As you can see, when we use 'past' in the middle, we must put the phrase between two commas.

In the past, Laura had difficulty interacting with others in a healthy way.

Here, when we use 'past' at the beginning of the sentence, we must put a comma after it.


It might come in handy to know that when we want to talk about a part of someone's past of which they are not proud, we can add an indefinite article to it. Take a look:

Everyone has a past dear.

She is the kind of woman with a complicated past.

Here, an adjective has been inserted between the article an 'past'.

Idioms and Expressions with 'Past'

We have some idioms and expressions with 'past' that are commonly used among native English speakers. We are going to study all about them below:

  • Be past it: When we want to show that someone is too old to do something, we use this idiom:

I'm past caring about these stupid beauty standards.

A : Don't you think you'd better do something about your depression?

B : Nah, I'm past it.

  • Be past your sell-by date: When we want to show that someone is no longer suitable or useful in a situation, we use this idiom:

You must not be past your sell-by date if you want to have a baby.

He cannot work here anymore; He is way past his sell-by date.

  • Not put it past someone: When we are not surprised to see someone do us wrong because it is typical of them:

Maybe Rick is the one; I wouldn't put it past him.

Here, it is inferred that that person is not surprised if Rick is the guilty person.

Yet I cannot put this conspiracy past George.


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