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Suceder and Pasar

Aleks Syntek has a real problem. He sings:


Yo no sé qué sucedió

I don't know what happened

Caption 1, Aleks Syntek - Intocable

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There are various words and phrases one can use in Spanish to say that something “happens.” The most common verb is pasar. Aleks could have sung Yo no sé qué pasó, and nobody would have blinked. If you saw a friend’s dog lying motionless with his tongue hanging out, you would probably ask:

¿Qué le pasó a tu perro?
What happened to your dog?

If you said:

¿Qué le sucedió a tu perro?, it would mean the same thing but it would sound a tad literary. They are both great words, but it’s always a good idea to use the most common word first (pasar) and save the less-used word as a synonym (suceder).

Be careful, though. Suceder does not only mean “to happen.” The same goes for pasar. Take this sentence, for example:

Benedicto sucedió a Juan Pablo en el trono papal.
Benedicto succeeded John Paul on the papal throne.

Here sucedió means “succeeded” in the sense of “to come next after” or “to replace”. But it does not mean “to be successful”. To say this in Spanish, you would use the phrase tener éxito:

¡Yo nunca tengo éxito!
I never succeed.

Remember that éxito has nothing to do with an "exit." “Exit” is salida.

Pasar can mean several things as well. In the imperative, it means “Go ahead!”

¡Pase por aquí, por favor!
Come [or Go] this way, please!

And when you can’t tolerate or put up with something or someone, when you can’t “suffer” him or her, the verb pasar is also a good choice:

A ese tonto no lo paso.
I don't stand that fool.

The verb pasar has dozens of meanings but let’s wrap this up: it can also mean “to swallow.” In this sense one usually uses it reflexively. If a child procrastinates at the table, with food in his mouth, his mother might raise her voice, saying:

¡Ya pásatelo!
Swallow it already!



Without the reflexive particle te, it would mean “Pass it over!” or “Pass it on!”, which is not the same thing.

So, now you know what happened, lo que pasó or lo que sucedió. But Aleks Syntek is still out of the loop… Poor guy!


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