Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Last or past?

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Prince Charles was tonight facing fresh accusations of meddling in government policy after it emerged that he had written directly to ministers in eight Whitehall departments over the last three years.

Anything wrong with this opening paragraph spotted in the Guardian online? Well – nothing to get too overheated about, but something to know if you’re really keen. It should really say ‘…the past three years’. Unless, that is, the world is coming to an end and the Guardian hasn’t got round to telling us yet.

More commonly confused words



Written by Wordwatch

18/12/2009 at 10:05 am

11 Responses

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  1. How should one use ‘last’ and ‘past’? I often behave like the Guardian and it is not an enviable situation, needless to say! 😉

  2. Hi, Vikas — here goes (hope it helps):

    Here are a few examples of how you would use ‘last’:

    We caught the last train home.

    He came last in the competition.

    I met him last year.

    That’s the last of the milk — we need to buy some more.

    Here are a few examples of how you would use ‘past’:

    They did things differently in the past.

    The cyclist just rode past.

    She has been staying here for the past few weeks.

    The thing is, if you say ‘last few weeks’ strictly speaking, it means ‘final few weeks’, whereas ‘past’ refers to a specific period of time leading up to the present.

    I have been planning a post on ‘past, last, and pass’ — people sometimes confuse ‘past’ and ‘passed’. Following your query, I’ll do it sooner rather than later.

    We have four inches of snow here — brrrrr!


    18/12/2009 at 12:17 pm

    • Wow, so elaborate!

      Will read it in the night. Thanks.

      Curse me! I just saw that I had not subscribed to comment reply notification! 😦

      You are awesome! Sorry for the trouble!

      I have to write a book soon and only God knows how much I am going to bug you in future! Feel free to seek any help from me. Leaving now; really leaving now LOL (do you like acronyms like LOL that are so commonly used now?)! 🙂

      • You’re welcome. No trouble at all. It will be fun to help you with any questions you may have in future.

        Thanks for your offer of help.

        I like some initialisms and not others — there is no logic to my preferences! For example, I don’t like ‘lol’ but I do like, and often use, ‘btw’.

        Btw — what is the book you have to write?


        19/12/2009 at 1:48 pm

        • I have a plan long overdue! It is a critique of the Indian civil services examination which is still a fat, heavy examination (more or less like what Lord Macaulay had suggested in the 19th century!). It is arguably one of the most difficult exams on the planet. It is unfair to the real talent and people with poor calibre get selected!

    • I understood it now: past and last!

      I have seen snow only in photos/videos! Unbelievable but true! Was going to the Himalayas in June but could not!

      • Good — I’m glad that helped. I think lots of people in the UK wish they had only seen snow in photos!


        19/12/2009 at 5:21 pm

        • One thing leads to another!

          I would have said ‘lot of people’ in the aforesaid line. So educate me now.

          • Hi, Vikas — the following are both correct:

            ‘lots of people’


            ‘a lot of people’

            (But you would not say ‘I think lot of people…’ — I don’t think you meant that, but just in case.)


            19/12/2009 at 5:29 pm

            • Yes you are right! It is like you can read my mind! 🙂

              I would have written (I actually write and speak) like that only. Thanks.

  3. Wow — that sounds impressive.


    19/12/2009 at 4:49 pm

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