Ask the Editor
Serenity Carr, Assistant Editor
Is it correct to say "pass" or "pass away" when someone has died?
Wednesday September 5th 2018
Is it grammatically correct to simply say, “he passed”? I have noticed this is the norm now. However, I firmly believe it should be, “he passed away,” or it’s way too ambiguous. — Nicole, United States

It's perfectly grammatical and unambiguous to say "he passed" when you mean it in the same way as "he passed away." The two expressions mean the same thing and are used in the same way. The phrase "he passed" can also mean several other things, but what helps us understand the meaning is the context. This is true for any word or phrase that has several meanings. Let's look at the phrase and see what context does to it.


If we only see the phrase "he passed," with no context or no other information, it is unclear what it means. But below, we can see the phrase used in complete sentences and it is clear what each one means because of the additional information in each sentence.

"We just spoke with Tom last month and were sad to hear he passed [=died]."

"It was a difficult class but in the end he passed [=completed successfully]!"

"He had to turn around because he passed [=moved past] his exit."

"He passed [=threw] the ball to his teammate."

"He passed [=handed/gave] the salt to his wife."

"It was a good opportunity but ultimately he passed [=did not take/accept] on the job offer."


The verb "pass" has many different meanings, and the context helps us understand which meaning is intended. It is perfectly common and acceptable to say "he passed" or "he passed away" when you mean "he died" because the context will make it clear what you mean.


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