Using the Spanish Verb ‘Pasar’

Common word has wide variety of meanings

Sign that says in Spanish: Attention. Do not enter.
Attention: Do not enter.

Flickr user oSiNaReF / Creative Commons.

Like its English cognate "to pass," the Spanish verb pasar has a variety of meanings that often vaguely relate to movement in space or time. The key to translating the verb, more so than with most words, is understanding the context.

Pasar is regularly conjugated, using the pattern of verbs such as hablar.

Pasar as a Verb of Happening

Although the English "pass" is sometimes a synonym for "to happen," such usage is extremely common in Spanish. Another possible translations for this usage is "to occur" or "to take place."

  • Dime qué te pasó. (Tell me what happened to you.)
  • Nadie sabía decirnos lo que pasaba, había mucha confusión. (Nobody knew to tell us what happened, there was so much confusion.)
  • Mira lo que pasa cuando les dices a las personas que son bellas. (Look at what happens to people when you say they are beautiful.)

Other Common Meanings of Pasar

Here are the other meanings of pasar you are most likely to come across:

To happen, to occur: ¿Qué ha pasado aquí? (What happened here?) Pase lo que pase estoy a tu lado. (Whatever happens, I'm at your side.) Creo que ya pasó. (I think it has already happened.)

To spend (time): Pasó todo el día con la familia de Juan. (She spent all day with Juan's family.) Pasaba los fines de semana tocando su guitarra. (He would spend weekends playing his guitar.)

To move or travel: No pasa el tren por la ciudad. (The train doesn't go through the city.)

To enter a room or area: ¡Bienvenida a mi casa! ¡Pasa! (Welcome to my house! Come in!)

To cross (a line of some sort): Pasamos la frontera y entramos en Portugal. (We crossed the border and entered Portugal.) El general Torrejón pasó el río con la caballería. (General Torrejon crossed the river with the cavalry.)

To go past: Siga derecho y pase 5 semáforos. (Go straight ahead and pass five traffic lights.) Cervantes pasó por aquí. (Cervantes came by here.)

To hand over an object: Pásame la salsa, por favor. (Pass the sauce, please.) No me pasó nada. (He didn't give me anything.)

To endure, to suffer, to put up with: Nunca pasaron hambre gracias a que sus ancestros gallegos trabajaron como animales. (They never suffered from hunger because their ancestors worked like animals.) Dios no nos abandona cuando pasamos por el fuego de la prueba. (God does not abandon us when we go through the fiery ordeal.)

To experience: No puedes pasar sin Internet. (I can't get by without the Internet.) No tenía amigos ni amigas, por eso me lo pasaba mal. (I didn't have male friends nor female friends, and because of this I had a rough time.)

To pass (a test): La niña no pasó el examen de audición. (The girl didn't pass the audition.)

To exceed: Pasamos de los 150 kilómetros por hora. (We went faster than 150 kilometers per hour.)

To overlook (in the phrase pasar por alto): Pasaré por alto tus errores. (I'll overlook your mistakes.)

To show (a motion picture): Disney Channel pasó la película con escenas nuevas. (The Disney Channel showed the movie with new scenes.)

To forget: No entiendo como se me pasó estudiar lo más importante. (I don't now how I forgot to study the most important thing.)

Reflexive Usage of Pasarse

The reflexive form pasarse is often used with little or no change in meaning, although it sometimes suggests that the action was surprising, sudden, or unwanted:

  • ¿Nadie se pasó por aquí? (Nobody passed through here?)
  • Muchos jóvenes se pasaron por la puerta de acceso para adultos mayores. (Many young people passed through the access door for older adults.)
  • En una torre de enfriamiento, el agua se pasa por el condensa. (In a cooling tower, the water passes through the condenser.)

Key Takeaways

  • Pasar is a common Spanish verb that is often used to mean "to happen."
  • Other meanings of pasar coincide with many of the meanings of its English cognate, "to pass."
  • The reflexive form pasarse usually has little or no difference in meaning from the normal form.