Suceder, Pasar, and Ocurrir: Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Happen”
Choosing between the verbs suceder, pasar, and ocurrir is easier than you think!
While all three of these share a similar meaning, I’ll show you some useful hacks and differences to help you make the right choice and use them naturally in your day-to-day Spanish conversation!
Join me for a lesson on choosing between suceder, pasar, and ocurrir. In this blog post I dive deep into their meaning in Spanish, how to use them, and practical examples to support you in making the right call between all three verbs.
Let’s get to it!
What Does it Mean?: Suceder, Pasar, and Ocurrir
Suceder, pasar, and ocurrir are three Spanish verbs whose meaning is “to happen.”
These verbs act as synonyms and are used in both formal and informal contexts. The verbs are often interchangeable, but there are small differences in their meanings.
All three verbs have more than one meaning so when you’re a beginner Spanish learner and aren’t quite familiar with each meaning, understanding these subtle differences can be a challenge.
The verb suceder stands for “to happen” and “to succeed.” It’s both a transitive and intransitive verb.
Intransitive verbs are those that do not take a direct object. As an intransitive verb, suceder means “to happen” and pertains to events taking place. It’s also used in a more formal context.
Let’s take a look at an example using suceder as an intransitive verb:
Todo sucedió muy rápido.
It all happened very fast.
Esto sucede muy seguido.
This happens very often.
Suceder is also a transitive verb, meaning that it does reference a direct object. In this case, it means “to happen,” “to succeed,” or “to follow” in Spanish.
Let’s examine some examples of suceder under this context:
El acontecimiento sucedió en aquella fiesta.
The event happened at that party.
Trump sucedió a Obama como presidente.
Trump succeeded Obama as president.
Está permitido que el presidente y el vicepresidente puedan sucederse el cargo.
It’s allowed that the president and vice president can succeed each other.
Keep in mind that while suceder in Spanish can stand for “to succeed,” it never means “success.” Instead, use the Spanish this noun el éxito.
The word pasar in Spanish is a synonym for suceder. It’s a cognate to the English verb “to pass,” and has a variety of other meanings that coincide with English meanings.
Pasar in Spanish refers to events happening or unfolding. You use it mostly in informal scenarios, and it’s the most generic and least specific of all three of these verbs, according to the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE).
It’s also a transitive verb whose meaning changes according to the context it’s in. Here are a few examples to show each meaning of pasar in Spanish:
1. To happen
Gracias a Dios no le pasó nada malo a tu hermana.
Thank God nothing bad happened to your sister.
Me suele pasar que llego tarde sin darme cuenta.
It often happens to me that I’m late without noticing.
Nada va a pasar si no vas a la fiesta.
Nothing will happen if you don’t go to the party.
2. To pass
¿Me puedes pasar el azúcar por favor?
Can you please pass the sugar?
3. To cross
Tienes que tener cuidado al pasar por esa pasarela.
You have to be careful when crossing that crossway.
4. To meet
Los exámenes de los estudiantes no pasan la nota mínima.
The student’s exam doesn’t pass the minimum grade.
5. To go through
Mi mamá pasó tiempos difíciles cuando se divorció.
My mom went through tough times when she got divorced.
Me dijeron que es mejor no pasar por esa calle.
I was told it’s best not to pass through that street.
6. To spend
Pasaré todas mis vacaciones en la playa.
I will spend all my vacations at the beach.
Out of the three verbs, ocurrir is the most formal and has fewer meanings. It’s also more precise and specific to a situation.
Ocurrir shares the same definition as its synonyms, meaning “to happen” and is a Spanish cognate of the English verb “to occur.”
Ocurrir can also express the idea that something “comes to mind” all of a sudden.
Here are some example sentences using the verb ocurrir in Spanish:
El incidente ocurrió en la calle.
The incident happened in the street.
¿Qué te ocurre hoy?
What’s happening to you today?
Se me ocurrió que necesitaba ir al banco, por eso vine tarde.
It occurred to me that I needed to go to the bank, that’s why I was late.
Related Nouns to Suceder, Ocurrir, and Pasar
As you now know, all three verbs have different meanings and can be used interchangeably to talk about events taking place or things happening. These events can be described in Spanish using different nouns that relate to such verbs.
Let’s take a look at the meanings and examples using these nouns.
1. Acontecimiento is an unforgettable event and often an accomplishment.
Cuando te gradúes, celebraremos el acontecimiento.
When you graduate, we’ll celebrate the event.
2. Suceso is an important event.
Es importante que no se te olvide un suceso tan importante.
It’s important you don’t forget such an important event.
3. Ocurrencia is an idea.
¡Qué ocurrencias más locas las tuyas!
What crazy ideas you have!
4. Evento is an incident or occurrence.
Van a pasar el evento en el canal 3.
The event is happening on channel 3.
5. Hecho is a fact and also an occurrence.
Los hechos sucedieron el martes de la semana pasada.
The events happened on Tuesday last week.
Spanish Phrases You Can Use With Any of the 3 Verbs
When it happens
- Al pasar
- Al ocurrir
- Al suceder
This is happening.
- Esto va a suceder.
- Esto va a pasar.
- Esto va a ocurrir.
It often happens.
- Suele suceder.
- Suele pasar.
- Suele ocurrir.
It might happen.
- Puede suceder.
- Puede pasar.
- Puede ocurrir.
It’s not going to happen.
- No va a suceder.
- No va a pasar.
- No va a ocurrir.
- No pasa nada.
- No ocurre nada.
- No sucede nada.
It happens all the time.
- Pasa todo el tiempo.
- Sucede todo el tiempo.
- Ocurre todo el tiempo.
It happens a lot.
- Pasa muy seguido.
- Sucede muy seguido.
- Ocurre muy seguido.
You’re On the Road To Speak Fluent Spanish
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