Pass time and past time versus pastime

UPDATE: A friend of mine pointed out that he sees a lot of people also using past time instead of pastime. So, I have rewritten this post to include this error, as well.

I noticed a couple of days ago in a book I’m editing that the author confused pass time with pastime, and I thought that meant perhaps others are having trouble with these words, too. Here’s a quick lesson to help you learn the difference between pastime, pass time, and past time.

A pastime (Note the spelling with one s.) is a hobby, or, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “a diversion or recreation which serves to pass the time agreeably; an activity done for pleasure rather than work; a hobby; a sport, a game. Also: a practice commonly indulged in.” 

To pass time means to spend time doing something.

Past time means, essentially, you should have done something before now.

To remember the difference, think of these sentences:

You pass time with your pastime.
It is past time for you to do your pastime.

Here are more examples:

The nerd’s pastime is reading comic books.
The nerd passes time reading comic books.
It is past time that the nerd reads his comic books.

The jock passed time beating up nerds.
Beating up nerds was the jock’s pastime.
It is past time that the jock stops beating up nerds.

Here’s a quiz to test your understanding. The answers are below.

1.     Freddy liked to  _______ by sewing stuffed animals.
2.     Freddy’s other _______ was mountain climbing.
3.     Freddy thought it was _______ that he found a new hobby.
4.     Marsha enjoyed the _______ of playing poker.
5.     Marsha looked at her bank account and realized it was _______ that she win a poker game.
6.     Marsha tried to _______ by watching television, but it didn’t stop her from worrying about the Martian attack.
7.     The Martians had an interesting _______, which was teaching humans to do tricks.

1. pass time 2. pastime 3. past time 4. pastime 5. past time 6. pass time 7. pastime

About Erin Roof

Editor for hire. Dictionary collector. Part-time cat lady. Word nerd blogging at
This entry was posted in copy editing, semantics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Pass time and past time versus pastime

  1. FS says:

    Dear Grammar Party Organizer: As always, well said. What astonishes me isn’t that people make mistakes, but that they don’t get any kind of internal hint that their usage is wrong. Or that they trust spell check too much. It’s one thing for creative use of words, and evolving word usage and flexible grammar. But it’s an entirely different matter with wrong word usage and tortuous grammar. Keep up the great work because the problem is growing: it’s astonishing how many simple proofreading and editing errors (or misses, or things not caught) there are in magazines, newspapers, corporate websites and professional blogs.

    • Erin Roof says:

      Thanks for your comment, FS. A lot of the problem with the mistakes you’re seeing is that newspapers, magazines, and the like have decided that it’s okay to make cutbacks from the copy editing departments. Even if there’s an impeccably interesting article, who is going to believe it if simple mistakes make the writer look stupid? Argh. (Sorry, that’s my soap box.)

  2. Belgrave Morris says:

    Actually “pass-time” n. predates “pastime”, and yes, the meaning, a “hobby” or a “diversion”, was the same. The word “pastime”, a contraction of the two words, appeared later.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What’s with the stereotyping of people who read comic books as nerds? Are you a racist or something?

    • Erin Roof says:

      I’m not sure if this is a joke, but I should note that I identify as I nerd. I certainly didn’t mean any harm by using the word.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, oppressed a bit were we? :) Relax. This is a fairly common metaphoric comparison. I am certain that the author did not intend to conjure memories of your unfortunate past experience with bullying… :)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Nice post, loving the condescension. You probably should have noted that “pass time” is probably the origin of “pastime” instead of using the obvious and misleading separate definition, so instead of talking about how “pass time” is just a verb, you could have mentioned its archaic use included being used as a noun.

  5. Anonymous says:

    A very informative Post..Thanks Erin

  6. Thank you for the answer. I always have difficulty with words that double up consonants: missspell, pasttime, etc. They do not look right (according to all the spellings to which I am exposed) and then I get confused. You are dead right: people, who know, devalue information coming from people who do not bother to take the time to learn basic presentation.

    As for the etymology criticism…. To-day and to-morrow were accepted spellings in my grammar school days, but they are unused today. If, by extension, proponents of archaic grammar prefer association to Neanderthal language, then so be it. It does not take a hipster to communicate effectively.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I think that this is very useful and helpful. Thank you

  8. Pingback: No chocolate, no footy, no problems. | One Traffic Light

  9. sheenmeem says:

    Thank you for clearing up the word pastime. I was giving a heading to my blog and thought it better to look it up. Thank God I came across your explanation.

  10. David Bee says:

    The word passtime is correct, and can be found in any English dictionary.
    Not sure about American spelling, just English.

  11. Gregory Chandler says:

    Gregory Chandler

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s