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Passer can be used with avoir or être in Le Passé Composé... and changes meaning

Most verbs use either avoir or être as the auxiliary verb in le Passé Composé (or other compound tense), but passer uses both, depending on what it means in the sentence*.

être + passé <devant, par, chez, etc>

= pass by <somewhere>
= go past <something/somewhere>
= stop by <somewhere>
= pop by <somewhere>

Je suis passé par la maison en allant au travail.
I passed by the house on the way to work.

Elle est passée chez Laurent hier.
She passed by Laurent's place yesterday.

Est-elle passée par la pharmacie comme je lui ai demandé?
Did she pop by the pharmacy as I asked her?

Nous sommes passés devant la poste.
We went past the post office.

 

Notice that in each case where être is the auxilliary, the verb passer is followed by a preposition (en, sur, dans, à etc.).  I.e. in these cases passer is usually about passing by something, going past something, stopping or popping by somewhere.

(See also Agreeing past participle with subject's gender and number with (+ être) verbs in Le Passé Composé)
 

avoir + passé <quelque chose>

= spend <some time>
= take <a test or exam>
= pass <something> (to someone)

J'ai passé l'été dernier en Italie.
I spent last summer in Italy.

J'ai passé mon examen hier.
I took my exam yesterday.

Il a passé le sel à son père.
He passed the salt to his father.

 

When passer is followed immediately by a noun (as opposed to a preposition), it uses avoir as the auxiliary, like most verbs.  
 
It can be very tricky to get the distinction here if you think in terms of what passer means in English (English verbs are very often 'prepositional', meaning we say things like "to climb on a horse" as well as "mount a horse" which are equivalent in meaning but grammatically very different - our verbs very often have prepositions where they don't in French!).  
 
 
 
*Note for grammar nerds: the technical grammatical distinction between these cases is actually whether the transitive or intransitive version of the verb is used. The transitive version (the version with a direct object) uses avoir.  The intransitive version lacking a direct object, uses être.
 
 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Es-tu passé par la boulangerie?
Did you stop by the bakery?


Il a passé le sel à son père.
He passed the salt to his father.


Je suis passé par la maison en allant au travail.
I passed by the house on the way to work.


Est-elle passée par la pharmacie comme je lui ai demandé?
Did she pop by the pharmacy as I asked her?


Nous sommes passés devant la poste.
We went past the post office.


J'ai passé mon examen hier.
I took my exam yesterday.


Elle est passée chez Laurent hier.
She passed by Laurent's place yesterday.


J'ai passé l'été dernier en Italie.
I spent last summer in Italy.


Micro kwiz: Passer can be used with avoir or être in Le Passé Composé... and changes meaning
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Q&A

Heyes

Kwiziq community member

29 January 2018

3 replies

How does se passer differ from passer with être?

Jim

Kwiziq community member

29 January 2018

29/01/18

Se passer has the meaning of to take place or to happen and takes être as does all pronominal verbs.


Passer can be used with a direct object (transitive) and takes avoir or with an indirect object (intransitive) and has to take être.


Hope this helps.


Alan

Chris

Kwiziq community member

29 January 2018

29/01/18

Just to build upon Jim's explanation:


Je suis passé chez Élise. 
I passed by Élise's place. 
-> intransitive, hence être 

J'y ai passé beaucoup de temps. 
I spent a lot of time there. 
-> transitive, hence avoir 

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Heyes

Kwiziq community member

30 January 2018

30/01/18

Yes, it does.
Thank you.

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

3 replies

Could you also say "Nous sommes passés la poste." (without the preposition 'devant'.

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

15 April 2018

15/04/18

Hi Stewart,


You can say,


Nous sommes passés à la poste - We went to the Post Office


Nous sommes passés devant la poste We went past the Post Office


Hope this helps!

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

17/01/18

No, I don't think the sentence "Nous sommes passés la poste" is proper French. There does seem to be the requirement of a preposition of some kind, although it doesn't have to be "devant". You could also say, "Nous sommes passés par la poste", for example.

But other meanings of "être passé" don't require a preposition. For example:

Le carburant est passé de l'état liquide à l'état gazeux. -- The fuel changed from liquid state to gaseous stat.
Le temps est passé. -- Time's up.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

17 January 2018

17/01/18

Thanks Chris, I suspected that would be the answer but I wasn't sure.

Andrew

Kwiziq community member

15 December 2016

2 replies

Les cloches sont passées

Les cloches sont passées ce matin pour apporter les œufs de Pâques. The bells passed this morning to bring the Easter eggs. HINT: (In France, it's bells that bring the Easter eggs, not a bunny!) Is this expression idiomatic as the rules above dont seem to apply or have I missed something? Thanks.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

15 December 2016

15/12/16

Bonjour Andrew !

No, here it's the case of passer meaning "to pass by", it's simply not followed by a prepositional group, but used on its own as an intransitive verb.
ps: Look also at the meanings implied by the auxiliaries être or avoir :)

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Andrew

Kwiziq community member

15 December 2016

15/12/16

Yes!!! That's great... that's what I hoped it meant!! (Or should that be "that's what I hoped it HAD meant??") LOL. Thanks.
I'll be right with you...