How to Use "Pass by" Correctly?

Encouraging ESL learners to add idioms to their everyday speech and writing can help them understand (and be understood by) native speakers. However, it is equally important to teach them the correct usage of these idioms and phrasal verbs. For instance, ESL learners commit persistent errors in using the phrase 'pass by'.

Pass by means 'to walk past a place, not to enter it'. But it is often mistakenly used - as shown below:

  • Incorrect: My mother passed by the clinic and then left quickly. 
  • Correct: My mother stopped in at the clinic and then left quickly. 

ESL writers and speakers confused  'passed by' with 'stopped at' when the meaning they want to convey is 'to enter (or visit) a place or closed space'. Remember that passing is not the same as entering. To illustrate: 

  • Correct: I saw my crush pass by my house on his way to town. 

The admired passerby did not stop and walk into her house, he just walked past the house. Perhaps he did not even know he was being watched. Below is another good example:

  • Correct: What were you saying? I'm sorry I didn't hear you 'cause Eric passed by and smiled. 

Stop the bad habit of using 'pass by' to mean 'enter' or 'visit'. Expressions such as 'come by' and 'drop by' can be used instead of 'pass by' in some situations. 'Come by' and 'drop by' both refer to 'paying or making a visit to someone'. See below examples: 

  • Incorrect:  Please pass by my house after class so I can teach you Geometry. 
  • Correct:     Please come by my house after class so I can teach you Geometry.  (='come to' my house)
  • Incorrect:  We missed your company. Please pass by sometime for supper.
  • Correct:     We missed your company. Please drop by sometime for supper. 
Designed by Neil Yamit