Passer – to pass, go by

Passer - French verb
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A Passing French Verb

The regular -er French verb passer usually means "to pass" and may require either être or avoir as its auxiliary verb in compound tenses/moods, depending on how it’s used.

Transitive Passer

When passer is transitive (has a direct object), it means "to pass over/through, cross":

Par exemple…

Je passe le pont en 5 minutes.   I pass over the bridge in 5 minutes. (It takes 5 minutes)
On espère passer la frontière demain.   We’re hoping to cross the border tomorrow.

Passer followed by an expression of time means "to spend":

Je passe une semaine en Grèce chaque été.   I spend a week in Greece every summer.
Il veut passer la soirée à la bibliothèque.   He wants to spend the evening at the library.

Passer also means "to take a test"*

Je passe l’examen ce matin.   I’m taking the test this morning.
Elle va passer son permis de conduire cette semaine.   She’s going to take her driving test this week.

 * Faux ami alert: Not to pass a test; the French expression for that is réussir un examen.

 In compound tenses and moods, transitive passer requires avoir as its auxiliary verb.

J’ai passé le pont en 5 minutes.   I passed over the bridge in 5 minutes.
J’ai passé une semaine en Grèce.   I spent a week in Greece.
J’ai passé l’examen ce matin.   I took the test this morning.

Intransitive Passer

When passer is intransitive (has no direct object, usually has a preposition), it means "to pass (through / over / by …); to go by":

Par exemple…

On va passer par Paris.   We’re going to pass through Paris.
Je passe devant la poste tous les jours.   I pass in front of the post office every day.
Le train vient de passer.   The train just went by.

In compound tenses and moods, intransitive passer requires être as its auxiliary verb.

On est passé par Paris.   We passed through Paris.
Je suis passé devant la poste hier.   I passed in front of the post office yesterday.
Le train est déjà passé.   The train has already gone by.

Transitive vs Intransitive

You’ve probably noticed from the above examples that when referring to passing a location, the meaning is essentially the same whether the verb is transitive or intransitive. But the grammatical distinction is important because it determines which auxiliary verb to use in compound tenses and moods.

Passer is transitive (and requires avoir) when

  • it has a direct object
      and
  • it doesn’t have a preposition
    (passer le pont, passer la frontière)

Passer is intransitive (and requires être) when

  • it is followed by a preposition (passer devant, passer par)
       or
  • it’s followed by an adverb (passer lentement)
       or
  • it’s not followed by anything (le train vient de passer)

Se passer

As a pronominal verb, se passer has two meanings:

1) to happen, take place

Qu’est-ce qui se passe ?   What’s happening?
Ça s’est mal passé.   It went badly.

2) (with period of time) to go by

Trois mois vont se passer très vite.   Three months are going to fly by, go by quickly.
Il ne se passe pas un seul jour que …   Not a day goes by that …

Passer in idiomatic expressions

 Related lessons

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Passer - to pass, cross, go by
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