Tricky Words: Past, Passed, Except and Accept

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on June 23, 2011 in Grammar & ESL
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In the last week, two tricky word patterns have made it to my attention. This is particularly interesting since I’m not in the classroom over the summer, where I usually am assaulted by word problems. Here are my most recent scenarios:

Scenario 1: The Email for Past and Passed

I was asked via email about the words “past” and “passed.” The writer wanted to know if you “get passed” something or if you “get past” it. For example, I might complain that I was so irritated last week, but I got “passed/past” it and moved on.

It goes without saying English is a tricky language and this was not a casual question – it had been driving this writer nuts for some time and she thought I might know the answer. I put on my English teacher hat and gave her the best possible answer I had.

“Getting past” something is an idiom – it’s an expression that doesn’t make much sense outside of our casual language in America. So it doesn’t really have to follow the most specific grammatical rules. In this case, the best check is a substitution. You’re trying to be ahead of something when you “move past it,” so “past” is the correct usage.

You can make a great case for “passed” though since to “move passed” something would be in the act of physically passing it, like you passed a slow car in the fast lane, but thanks to the random idiom nature of this particular beast, we’re going to have to go with “past.” So let’s move past it now to the next scenario.

Scenario 2: The Handout for Accept or Except

I was in a training to work with kids at a church program next week. I have worked this particular camp a total of four years so far – this will be my fifth. So the trainings that are required every year are a bit repetitive. To try and stay engaged (this was a small group and I didn’t want to be rude) I read every line of the handout.


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One of the lines was this: “All children must be signed in and out each day by an adult. (Do not except children from another crew unless [Name] personally instruct you to do so.)"

I’ll be honest with you – I struggled for a minute to decipher that line. Of course, I was still wearing my English teacher hat from the email earlier in the day (see above), and now I was supposed to “except” children from other groups once I had permission? Wasn’t that illegal in 48 states?

As it was explained, the crew leaders (of which I am one), are not supposed to ACCEPT children from other groups unless we’re given permission.  Accept, not except.

Accept – to welcome with open arms.

Except – to exclude, i.e. I want everyone at my party except you. Ouch.

That’s one hell of a typo, and nobody even mentioned it or laughed about it – and that training needed a laugh. I had to laugh alone in my head, but then I’m used to that. I spend a lot of time laughing at my own typos when I find them - usually after running 40 copies at school.

Any other inane or humorous grammar mistakes out there this week?

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

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5 Comments

  1. Jennifer Mattern June 23, 2011 Reply

    lol I have absolutely no problem admitting that I was the writer asking you about the first one. There are two grammatical issues that always leave me second guessing myself:

    1. past / passed when used in that idiom
    2. toward / towards (which someone on Twitter recently informed me is a US vs UK thing — even tougher for me as I write for nearly an equal number of clients on each side, so I’m always hopping back and forth)

    Thanks for covering it! :)

  2. Lori June 23, 2011 Reply

    Fun post. :) You’ve chosen two of my favorite peeves (if one can have a “favorite” peeve). And you describe them perfectly! Passed is having gone by somehing or been given something at the dinner table. Past is when it happened. LOL Confusing as hell, huh?

    • Jennifer Mattern June 23, 2011 Reply

      Confused the hell out of me at least. In my head, “passed” made more sense (if you physically pass an obstacle, why not use the same word for mentally or emotionally passing one?). But I agonized over it so much I usually threw out the phrase instead. And then I remembered I have an English teacher writing for us here and thought “Oooh! Let me nag Rebecca!” :D

  3. Rebecca Garland June 24, 2011 Reply

    Of course the only problem there is that the English language is always evolving, and often they don’t let us English teachers know what’s going on until it shows up on a standardized test somewhere. :)

  4. Sarah June 24, 2011 Reply

    The Oatmeal has a hilarious poster about common misspellings*. As much as I want to believe I am above misuse of words and typos, I find myself sneaking a peek at the poster when I am questioning myself.

    *See- I almost did it there with misspelling – I didn’t want to give it that second s!

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