Commonly Confused Words: Pass Time or Pastime?

I sometimes write articles about grammar to pass time and make a little money. When I’m not writing, my favorite pastime is reading mystery novels. If you aren’t sure whether to use pass time or pastime in your writing, your confusion is understandable because the two terms relate to one another. Many people who have called themselves writers for years can get mixed up about it. Let’s clear up the confusion now.

Pass Time and Pastime at a Glance

  • Pass time is a verb phrase meaning to spend time doing something, often to make a period of time go by quicker.
  • Pastime is a noun referring to a hobby or leisure activity that someone does for enjoyment.

When Do You Use Pass Time or Pastime When Writing?

Basically, pass time is a verb phrase meaning “to occupy yourself,” while pastime is a noun referring to a hobby or activity that you enjoy participating in. Here is an explanation of each with a little more detail.

When To Use Pass Time

To pass time (or pass the time) is to do something to occupy yourself. It usually means spending time doing something engaging while you wait for something else to happen. If you’re in a group of people waiting for something to start, you may do an activity to pass time together.

The activity you do to pass time may be something enjoyable. However, it may not be an activity you would choose if you had anything better to do.

Pass Time Examples:

Here are some examples of when to use pass time:

  • At the dentist’s office, I watch HGTV to pass time before my appointment.
  • We played a quick game of cards to pass time during the concert’s intermission.

You’ll sometimes see people add a definite article to this phrase so that it becomes pass the time. This is an acceptable variation.

When To Use Pastime

A pastime is a hobby or activity that you choose to do during your leisure time because you find it to be fun and relaxing. It is something that you actively seek out for enjoyment, not just because you are waiting for something else to happen and need to keep yourself occupied in the interim.

The term first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1490. At that time, the spelling was passe tyme, and it meant something you do to pass the time. Over the intervening centuries, the meaning changed a little, and the spelling changed a lot.

Pastime Examples:

Here are some examples of how to use pastime:

  • Because I enjoy retro computer games, playing The Sims 2 is my favorite pastime.
  • In the 1800s, people were so enthusiastic about the national pastime of baseball that they skipped work so they could attend games.

If it helps, you can remember pastime as something very similar to a hobby. A hobby is typically a fun activity that produces a physical object. By that definition, baking, knitting, and woodworking would all be hobbies because they produce something tangible.

Dancing, watching sports, or playing musical instruments would be pastimes because there is no physical product.

If Writing Is Your Pastime, We Hope You Pass Time With Us

It can be hard to know when to use pass time or pastime because the noun pastime evolved from the verb phrase. If you pass time with us, you can learn about many commonly confused words, as well as other grammar rules.

Do you confuse pass time and pastime? Do you have a fun pastime related to language? Let us know in the comments!


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