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I am studying the difference between Passant and Fußgänger.

I have two hypotheses:

  1. Fußgänger is a person who is walking on foot. Both Passant and Fußgänger can be used to refer to a person walking on a sidewalk.

  2. Fußgänger is a person who is walking on foot. Passant can be used to refer to a person walking on a sidewalk.

(I was told these two ideas by two different natives, so I am pretty confused now)

What is the difference between then?

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Neither the word Passant nor the word Fußgänger have any intrinsic relation to a pavement. Both can be used for people on or off a pavement.

Fußgänger, as you correctly noted, is a person walking on foot, i.e. the nominalisation of zu Fuß gehen. It technically could apply to people walking on foot anywhere (in a building, on a train, in the street, in the forest …) but it is usually only used in contexts of traffic. It does not state that the person is walking on the pavement. It can be used and is used for people walking at the side of roads that don’t have pavements, walking on the middle of a road, etc.

Passant is a borrowing from the French verb passer meaning to pass. Thus, it does not refer to any specific mode of transport in itself, nor does it refer to a specific place of a road; it merely signifies that somebody is passing. In the overwhelming majority of cases, though, it will be somebody walking past you. However, it does not have to be in the context of traffic and most importantly there is no requirement for a pavement anywhere.

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I think Passant is closer to passer-by than pedestrian. Although a Passant will usually be on foot, I don't think it is compulsory; it is possible to imagine a cyclist or two passing by among all those pedestrians.

Perhaps a native speaker will put me right about this.

  • Less verbose than my answer but basically the same — needless to say, the native speaker in me agrees ;) – Jan Oct 21 '16 at 16:34
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Jemand, der an einem Straßencafé vorbeigeht, ist für den vorbeifahrenden Motoristen ein Füßgänger, für den Gast des Cafés jedoch ein Passant.

  • Warum nicht auch für den Gast des Cafés? – oW_ Oct 21 '16 at 21:52
  • Weil sich Fußgänger auf einen Verkehrsteilnehmer bezieht, der kein Vehikel zur Fortbewegung nutzt. Der Gast des Cafés nimmt nicht am Straßenverkehr teil, der Motorist schon. Wenn der Gast des Cafés in einer Metaebene denkt, dann ist der Passant natürlich auch ein Fußgänger. – deponensvogel Oct 22 '16 at 16:46
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To add a short definition for both terms:

Fußgänger: A person who participates in traffic but does not use any kind of vehicle.

›Fußgänger‹ is perfectly translated to pedestrian, I guess.

Passant: A person passing by.

Carsten's example sentence shows you how to use both terms in practice. A ›Fußgänger‹ is not solely a person walking on foot. Wheelchair users couldn't be ›Fußgänger‹, therefore.

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