“What’s Past Is Past” – Meaning & Correct Usage

Idiomatic expressions are a part of what makes the English language so beautiful. One such expression is “what’s past is past”. This is something we hear in many places, from casual conversations to movies…and even in popular songs! This article discusses the meaning and origin of this expression.

What Does “What’s Past Is Past” Mean?

The expression “what’s past is past” means that something that has already happened in the past remains in the past and cannot be changed. It is a statement that is usually said to another person with the intent of telling them not to dwell on a particular issue.

What's Past Is Past meaning

The word “past” refers to a period of time that has already elapsed.

The phrase “what’s past is past” is an idiomatic expression that means that whatever happened in the past has already happened, and therefore cannot be changed.

It is usually said to another person as a way of telling them not to dwell on a particular issue. Take the following conversation, for example:

  • Person A: “I want to cry every time I drive past that restaurant, because seeing it reminds me of him.”
  • Person B: “I know it hurts, but what’s past is past. You can’t change the fact that he broke up with you.”

Often, it is accompanied by statements relating to letting go of the past and moving on, as seen below:

  • Person A: “Hey, remember how you stole my lunch money back when we were in the fifth grade and lied to the teachers about it?”
  • Person B: “What’s past is past, dude. We were both young and stupid. Plus, it was forever ago, so why don’t you just let it go?”

“What’s past is past” is also often used as a way to express forgiveness towards someone who wronged you, such as in the following example:

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Origin of “What’s Past Is Past”

The origin of the idiomatic expression “what’s past is past” is not well-documented. However, synonymous expressions have been documented to exist from as early as the 14th century.

It is difficult to trace where exactly the expression “what’s past is past” comes from because the history of the expression has not been well documented. However, we can infer its origins from synonymous idiomatic expressions, particularly “what’s done is done”.

“What’s done is done” not only has a similar cadence to “what’s past is past”, but it also has the exact same meaning. The two phrases are interchangeable.

One of the earliest (and one of the most famous, as well) uses of “what’s done is done” is by Shakespeare himself in one of his most enduring works.

In Macbeth, which was written in the early 17th century, the phrase is used twice: the first as “what’s done, is done” and the second as “what’s done cannot be undone”.

There is an even older expression in French dating back to the 14th century that may have been the origin of these expressions. The phrase roughly translates to, “But when a thing is already done, it cannot be undone.”

How to Use “What’s Past Is Past” In a Sentence

“What’s past is past” can stand alone as its own statement. It can also form a part of a longer sentence.

Below are examples of how to use “what’s past is past” in a sentence:

  • Today, for the first time since I met him again, I truly feel that what’s past is past with the two of us.
  • Let it go, Susan; what’s past is past.
  • We’ve said that what’s past is past, but sometimes I feel like you are still holding a grudge against me for what happened twenty years ago.
  • You and I both know that what’s past is past and you can’t change what happened, Henry.
  • What’s past is past, so we should just learn from our mistakes and look to the future.

“What’s Past Is Past” – Synonyms

Below are some phrases that are synonymous with “what’s past is past”:

  • What’s done is done
  • It’s all in the past
  • It’s all past now
  • The past is in the past
  • What happened in the past should stay in the past

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