All About the French Regular Verb 'Passer' ('to Pass')

Businesswoman looking at train passing by

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Passer ('to pass') is a very common and useful regular -er verb, by far the largest group of verbs in the French language. It may be used as a transitive verb that takes a direct object or an intransitive verb, and in doing so, its compound tenses are conjugated with either avoir or être.

Intransitive 'Passer' + 'être'

With no direct object, passer means "to pass" and requires être in the compound tenses:

  • Le train va passer dans cinq minutes. > The train is going to pass / go past in five minutes.
  • Nous sommes passés devant la porte à midi. > We passed by the door at noon

When followed by an infinitive, passer means "to go / come to do something":

  • Je vais passer te voir demain. > I'll come (by to) see you tomorrow.
  • Pouvez-vous passer acheter du pain ? > Can you go buy some bread?

Transitive 'Passer' + 'Avoir'

When passer is transitive and has a direct object, it means "to pass," "to cross," "to go through," and it requires avoir as the auxiliary verb in the compound tenses.

  • On doit passer la rivière avant le coucher du soleil. > We need to cross the river before sunset.
  • Il a déjà passé la porte. > He has already gone through the door.

Passer is also used transitively with a period of time to mean "to spend":

  • Nous allons passer deux semaines en France. > We're going to spend two weeks in France
  • J'ai passé trois mois sur ce livre. >  I spent 3 months on that book

Transitive versus Intransitive

While the meanings are nearly the same, the difference is in the object (the noun following the verb). If there is no object, or if a preposition separates the verb and object, the verb is intransitive, as in Je suis passé devant la porte. If there's no preposition, as in J'ai passé la porte, it's transitive.

'Se Passer'

The pronominal se passer most often means "to take place," "to happen," or, in reference to time, "to go by."

  • Qu'est-ce qui se passe ? > What's going on?
  • Tout s'est bien passé. > Everything went smoothly.
  • Deux jours se sont passés. > Two days went by.

Expressions With 'Passer'

With idiomatic expressions using the French verb passer, you can butter someone up, handcuff someone, kick the bucket, and more.

  • passer + clothing > to slip on/into
  • passer + infinitive > to go do something
  • passer à la douane > to go through customs
  • passer à la radio/télé > to be on the radio/TV
  • passer à l'heure d'été > to turn the clocks foward, begin daylight saving time
  • passer à l'heure d'hiver > to turn the clocks back, end daylight saving time
  • passer à pas lents > to pass slowly
  • passer de bons moments > to have a good time
  • passer de bouche en bouche > to be rumored about
  • passer des faux billets > to pass forged money
  • passer devant Monsieur le maire > to get married
  • passer du coq à l'âne > to change the subject, make a non sequitur
  • passer en courant > to run past
  • passer en revue > to list; to go over in one's mind, go through (figurative) 
  • passer (en) + ordinal number > to put in ___ gear
  • passer l'âge de > to be too old for
  • passer l'arme à gauche (familiar) > to kick the bucket
  • passer la journée/soirée > to spend the day/evening
  • passer la main dans le dos à quelqu'un > to butter someone up
  • passer la tête à la porte > to poke one's head around the door
  • passer le cap > to get past the worst, turn the corner, get over the hurdle
  • passer le cap des 40 ans > to turn 40
  • passer le poteau > to cross the finish line
  • passer les bornes > to go too far
  • passer les menottes à quelqu'un > to handcuff someone
  • passer par > to go through (an experience or intermediary)
  • passer par de dures épreuves > to go through some rough times
  • passer par toutes les couleurs de l'arc-en-ciel > to blush to the roots of one's hair, to turn pale (from fear)
  • passer par l'université > to go through college
  • passer pour > to take for, be taken for
  • passer quelque chose à quelqu'un > to pass/hand something to someone
  • passer quelque chose aux/par profits et pertes > to write something off (as a loss)
  • passer quelque chose en fraude > to smuggle something
  • passer quelque chose sous silence > to pass something over in silence
  • passer quelqu'un à tabac > to beat someone up
  • passer quelqu'un par les armes > to shoot someone by firing squad
  • passer sa colère sur quelqu'un > to take out one's anger on someone
  • passer sa mauvaise humeur sur quelqu'un > to take out one's bad mood on someone
  • passer sa vie à faire > to spend one's life doing


You can see all the tenses of passer, both simple and compound, conjugated elsewhere. For now, below is the present tense to illustrate that passer hews exactly to regular -er conjugation endings. 

Present tense:

  • je passe
  • tu passes
  • il passe
  • nous passons
  • vous passez
  • ils passent
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Team, ThoughtCo. "All About the French Regular Verb 'Passer' ('to Pass')." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Team, ThoughtCo. (2023, April 5). All About the French Regular Verb 'Passer' ('to Pass'). Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "All About the French Regular Verb 'Passer' ('to Pass')." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).