Edit This: Grammar Lesson: Last vs. Past

Edit This: Grammar Lesson: Last vs. Past

by Steve Gamel
Edit This

I recently wrote a volleyball game story for the Denton Record-Chronicle, and in it I wrote that the losing team”… now has lost five of its last eight matches.”

Can you spot the grammar mistake?

I didn’t when I submitted the article to the copy desk for review. But there was an eagle-eyed editor who did and quickly replaced the word last with past. The new sentence read “… now has lost five of its past eight matches.”

Last vs Past – What’s the difference?

As my editor explained, using the word last in this context could create confusion for the reader by implying that it’s the end of the losing team’s season. However, it’s still early in the season and both teams have games left on their schedules. Past is a better choice because it signifies that the eight games have taken place in the past, but does not create confusion by implying that they were the last eight games of the season.

Here are some additional examples: 
Incorrect: These last few months have been difficult.
Correct: These past few months have been difficult.

Incorrect: That football team won the state title four times in the last six years.
Correct: That football team won the state title four times in the past six years. 

There are other differences between last and past depending on how you are using them in a sentence (as an adjective, adverb, noun, etc.). I have been using last instead of past – at least in this context, anyway – in my writing for years and never noticed. But that doesn’t mean I’m correct in the eyes of a hardcore grammarist.

Regardless of your take, be cognizant of potential confusion and aim for clarity.  

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