Pass time, pastime, and past time: What’s the difference?

hand scratching cat's chin

Petting cats is a good pastime. Photo by Yerlin Matu on Unsplash

In this post, I’ll be teaching the difference between the words pass timepastime, and past time and how to tell the difference between the three.

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 read 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 _______ 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

Erin Servais is a book editor and author coach at Dot and Dash LLC, a publishing services company focusing on independent and self-publishing authors. Learn more about hiring her for your next project:

30 thoughts on “Pass time, pastime, and past time: What’s the difference?

  1. 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.


    • 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.)


      • My question was answered; I needed affirmation as I no longer trust my instincts.
        Now I’m drawn to your explanation. You used “between” where I would have used “among.” Between refers to TWO choices/options. Whereas “among” is used when comparing more than TWO.
        Please clear this up for me.


  2. 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.


    • If pass-time “predates” upon pastime as you claim, perhaps this explains how it bulges with that extra ‘s’ and had to ‘dash’. If, however, pass-time simply ‘pre-dates’ pastime, there is no easy explanation for its expanded girth and hasty eating habits.


      • Predate is not, in fact, a verb corresponding to “predator” or “predation”, but means “to happen before”. Perhaps you should try finding out if you are right before leaving snarky comments.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


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  6. To the author:
    Should it not be “among” instead of “between” in “Here’s a quick lesson to help you learn the difference between pastime, pass time, and past time.” ?
    Surely “between” is used for 2 and among for more than 2…


  7. I wonder if the structure (it’s past time + verb) would take the past subjunctive, i.e., ‘It’s past time the nerd read his comic book.’ (With read being the past simple of read)

    That would make sense as it may require the same structure as in this sentence, ‘It is high time I went home.’

    What do you think?


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