In our continuing series, here is some advice to help you keep a couple of more confusing word pairs straight while line editing.

Past vs. Passed

These two words sound the same, and when my writing brain is chugging along, it sometimes forgets which of these different-meaning words is appropriate.

According to, passed refers to what something has done, such as having passed a slow-moving car in the left lane driving down the interstate or having passed an academic test. In contrast, past, according to, is an intangible thing or adjective. As in forget the past. However, it can get complicated. When used as a preposition when talking about physically going by or beyond something, past is appropriate, as in I was looking for the library but I drove right past.

To determine whether passed or past is appropriate, evaluate your sentence critically and determine what exactly you wanted to say. If it is something the subject of your sentence did already regarding the verb pass, use passed. If it is not referring to something your subject did, use past. In the final example in the preceding paragraph, drove is the verb and past describes the driving or could be thought of as a thing; it was past, this is here.

Weather vs. Whether

This is another situation in which my fingers persist in insisting on typing the wrong words. Now, I know that weather is the word for all of that stuff that comes out of or happens to be in the sky. Cloudy. Sunny. Rainy. Stormy. But for some reason, every once in a while, when I am re-reading something I’ve written, I come across weather when I meant to write whether (and sometimes even wheather!!!).

Whether is appropriate when you are writing about two things; whether you want to chose one or the other. Will the weather be stormy? Or will it be not stormy? Whether there will be stormy weather. To be more precise, according to, whether is “used to introduce a single alternative, the other being implied or understood, or some clause or element not involving alternatives” as in I don’t know whether to take a raincoat (or not) to deal with today’s weather.

Conversely, the specific definition of weather, according to is “the state of the atmosphere with respect to wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc.” or “a strong wind or storm or strong winds and storms collectively.”

Really, for me anyway, it is not that I get confused on whether to use weather or whether, it is the fact that my typing fingers refuse to cooperate! I hope yours – and from now on mine – will behave better.