I wrote code to detect a problem where live video playout of a file had moved beyond the end of the clip on disk. The clip itself may be growing due to an ongoing recording or a transfer of the file across a network. The error message described the effect ("displayed black") followed by a helpful hint about the possible reason: passed media EOF? I waffled for quite a while between that and past media EOF? Both are true: The "play head" has passed the end of the file and it is now past the end.

Ultimately I chose passed because it described the event. It allows for the fact that the file may grow and then stop again, causing a second occurrence of the message when we pass the EOF once again. It does cause confusion for people who are dealing with a file that won't grow. In that case past EOF seems more accurate.

Is one clearly better than the other in this application?

  • 1
    Have you considered using a longer sentence to make the error message clearer? I know it's fashionable to make error messages as arcane and inscrutable as possible ;) – gpr Mar 2 '11 at 3:41
  • The detection mechanism is indirect. The bulk of the error message is about what directly happened. The quoted part is a parenthetical hint about a possible reason why. Some software deals with this by assigning a numeric code to every message so that the explanations and provisos can be outside the error log in a reference manual. – Ben Jackson Mar 2 '11 at 4:35

A key difference between them is that passed is talking about process while past is talking about state. Because of that, I would tend to go with passed for a transient message that will naturally go away some time after its described event occurs and past for a message that will continue to be displayed as long as the state it is describing applies.

  • This was my thinking: The error message is about an event. If a message describes state (e.g. The network is disconnected) then it is not clear that it just happened (The network has disconnected). – Ben Jackson Mar 2 '11 at 20:59

If the act of passing the EOF is what caused the error to arise, then the implication is that now that we are safely on the other side of it, there should be no more error. Also, passing the EOF marker in the other direction should raise the error again.

If the fact that we are on the wrong side of the EOF is what is causing the error, then our condition of being past the EOF marker is the issue, and we can expect that moving back onto the other side of it will fix the error. (This usage is also perfectly consistent with a file that can grow or shrink.)

Therefore I would prefer the use of "past."

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    or beyond media EOF?. – mgkrebbs Mar 2 '11 at 6:42
  • Sure, that could work too. – Hellion Mar 2 '11 at 16:42

Since "passed" in this context could refer to a bad parameter being passed to a function, I would lean toward "past." I do agree with the other answer in that you might consider adding an extra word or two to make things clearer.


Using past would actually be wrong. If you are at a point in the media time line that is in the past of the end of the stream, then you are still within the media (or even before it started). If you have passed the end of the stream, then you are in the future of the end of the media time line.

  • I don't believe there's any chance of the message being misread to interpret 'past' in the temporal rather than the physical sense; 'past' is clearly functioning as an adjective here, not a noun. – Hellion Mar 2 '11 at 16:40
  • @Hellion: Adjective or noun, it still means at an earlier time. – Guffa Mar 2 '11 at 17:21
  • not at all. "We are past the marker" has absolutely no temporal element in the word 'past', only physical location. – Hellion Mar 2 '11 at 17:51
  • @Hellion: Yes, it does. Your example is neither an adjective or a noun, it's a preposition. – Guffa Mar 4 '11 at 18:32

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