When studying a foreign language, students often tend to mix up new words with similar ones; they already know in other languages. Though this usually works well in the same language families, it is also the reason why people get trapped by false friends. Find out the real meaning of the often confused verbs “passieren” and “vorübergehen” in German. 


“Passieren” and “vorübergehen”

Students often mix up with the two German verbs “passieren” and “vorübergehen” because of the English “to pass”. We can also find verbs with a similar meaning in other languages as in the French “passer”.

As our brain likes to connect similar with similar, it brings us to the assumption that if these two verbs look the same, they will also have the same meaning. However, this is wrong as I will explain to you in the following.


The meaning of “passieren”

In German, the regular verb “passieren” means “to happen” in most of the cases that we use it. As this verb has an entirely different meaning, it should be easy to see now, that you cannot use “passieren” in the sense of “to pass”.

Examples for passieren:

  • “Was ist passiert?” – “What happened?”
  • “Mir ist ein Missgeschick passiert.” – “A mishap happened to me.”
  • “Der Unfall passierte am Sonntag.” – “The accident happened on Sunday.”


German was not German if there was no exception, and here we go. One can also use the verb “passieren” in the sense of crossing / passing through a place, like a border, a city, or a mountain pass.


  • “Wir passierten die Stadt während unserer Reise.” – “We passed the city during our trip.”
  • “Ihr passiert den höchsten Pass der Reise.” – “You pass the highest pass of the trip.”
  • “Ich passierte die Grenze ohne Probleme.” – “I crossed the border without any problems.”

The meaning of “vorübergehen”

Now, if you would like to express in German that something passes in a timely matter in the sense of “going away,” you should use the verb “vorübergehen”.  An example of that is, for instance:

  • “Der Schmerz wird in zwei Minuten vorübergehen.” – “The pain will go away in two minutes.”
  • “Macht euch keine Sorgen, das wird auch vorübergehen.” – “Don’t worry, it will also pass.”
  • “Auch diese Krise wird vorübergehen.” – “This crisis will also pass.”

Another verb with the same meaning that you can use instead of “vorübergehen” is “vorbeigehen”. Both verbs are separable which means, that if you use it in a standard main clause, the prefix “vorüber / vorbei” should stand at the end: “Das geht auch vorüber / vorbei.” Also, the verb “gehen” is irregular which you should take into account when using it in the past tense.


To pass or not to pass

Now, the reason why I chose “passieren” and “vorübergehen” is that students mix up with them all the time. I hope that I could shed some light into this problem with this article.

If you want to get to know more false friends, check out my article about how to properly use “bekommen” and “werden”.


Bis bald!




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