Which phrase is more common in AmE:

What do you do to kill time?

What do you do to pass the time?

Are both of them equally common?


2 Answers 2


Google ngram shows that American English books mostly use "pass the time".

This says nothing about spoken language, of course, though it can be indicative. I don't know of any spoken American English corpora that I could look this up in.

However, the meanings of the two phrases are not precisely the same. There are many cases where you could use either without much practical difference, and in such cases you can use whichever. They have quite different nuance, however. Killing time suggests that the activity you use to "kill time" isn't particularly worth doing, while doing something to pass the time carries that connotation less strongly. If one is killing time, there's a suggestion that you resent having to do so. Overall, there's more of a suggestion of irritation and pointlessness to killing time than passing the time.

Also, some instances of "pass the time" may be "pass the time of day", though not very many will be. That has a quite separate meaning.


Ngram shows "pass the time" is more frequently used but a gentle reminder, ngram is mostly based on books not spoken language.

  • 1
    Kill the time (in the query you used) is unidiomatic. However, it doesn't actually matter in this case. Changing it to just kill time shows the same thing. Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 19:08
  • Yes that was a foolish mistake on my part. The comparison remains the same as "pass the time" is still more common, but now kill time's frequency has climbed notably. Thank you for pointing that out
    – eefar
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 19:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .