I have a simple Physics question, which (possibly) has a misleading line, which can have multiple interpretations.

A bus goes past a cyclist every 6 minutes.

It's given that they're going in the same direction. Assuming that goes past means something like passes by, I'm considering 2 scenarios here. The speed of Bus can be:

  1. Higher than the cyclist's.
  2. Lower than the cyclist's.

Solving both cases gives different results, whereas, the solution that is given in the book only considers case 1. Am I wrong in considering 2 cases? If yes, is there any rule which I'm forgetting? If no, why do you feel the solution written only considered 1 case? Either case, please direct me to a good reference that can explain the exact meaning of the word.

P.S.: I know it's common sense that the average speed of bus would be more than a cyclist in practical situations, but we can't make such assumptions in a theoretical problem in Physics.

In case you feel it's a naive question, please pardon my lack of knowledge, I'm not a native English speaker.

Edit: Adding this to clarify meaning.

It's given that:

  • There are multiple buses (with same speeds).
  • Everyone (all buses and cyclist) is going in the same direction.
  • Everyone has a constant speed.

Edit 2: All the answers that I saw have referred to the general usage of the word, rather than a stricter definition. As I've already mentioned in the question:

Either case, please direct me to a good reference that can explain the exact meaning of the word.

I'm quoting again to emphasize it.

I know how the word is generally used. My 1st intuition after reading that sentence was also to only consider the case where a bus overtakes the cyclist, but on spending some time with the question, I realized the other case. I believe any question like this should be very clear about it's meaning. If there no strict definition of the word, it makes the question language questionable.

I'm not posting any more details of the problem. It's a lengthy Physics problem and posting more details will only complicate it with unnecessary details.

  • 1
    I think you may be over-thinking this: I do not know how anyone could read that and understand that the bike is faster. Also, I read it to say that more than one bus is involved. – Cascabel Jul 13 '18 at 17:54
  • In the clarified version of the question (again, unless a circular route is involved) the only way it makes sense if a bus refers to a different bus every six minutes. (And each bus is faster than the bike.) – Jason Bassford Jul 13 '18 at 18:25
  • “A bus goes past a cyclist every 6 minutes.” could also mean that there is one bus and a large number of cyclists (travelling in the same direction on a straight track) — the bus goes past some cyclist every 6 minutes. – Scott Jul 21 '18 at 4:38
  • It is interesting that there are many possible ambiguities in the question except the one the OP imagines! – user184130 Jul 26 '18 at 16:24

When one says one vehicle, person, etc, "goes past" another, if both are going the same direction, it's usually read that the one doing the going past is going faster than the other. One can also "go past" something that's not moving at all.

So as you write it, it may be assumed that the bus is going faster, and is "passing" the cyclist. This is different than the phrase "passes by", which just means they were near each other for a time, speed and direction not specified.

There may not be enough context to give the best suggestion - can you share more of the physics problem, so as to better understand the movement taking place?


Note that this answer was provided after clarifications were made to the question. I would have answered the clarified question differently . . .

I think you've missed a real-world scenario, which actually seems more likely. (Assuming you are talking about a single bus and a single bike.)

  1. The speed of the bus is, at various times, both more and less than the cyclist.

In other words:

a) The bus goes past the cyclist.
b) The bus stops because it needs to let a passenger off or pick a passenger up.
c) The cyclist goes past the bus.
d) The bus starts again.
e) Go back to a).

In the other scenarios, and assuming that they are both going in the same direction, it would be impossible for the bus to pass the cyclist more than just once—unless they were navigating a circular course.

  • Let me rephrase my question to clarify the meaning. I think you misunderstood. – Akshay Gupta Jul 13 '18 at 17:59
  • ....and that is exactly what the OP did. – Cascabel Jul 13 '18 at 18:05
  • Hey @JasonBassford I changed it. Sorry for that. – Akshay Gupta Jul 13 '18 at 18:11

If the bus "goes past the cyclist," and they're both going in the same direction, I'd assume the bus is going faster. If it were the other way, they'd probably say the cyclist went past the bus. From a physics standpoint, everything is relative, but from a language standpoint it's fairly clear...you never hear anybody say a building went past their car.

  • I know, but "you never hear anybody say a building went past their car" is not really a strong argument since there are some places where English is seldom spoken. I'm looking for a stricter definition of the phrase if it exists. – Akshay Gupta Jul 13 '18 at 18:19
  • It's probably true that no one says "A house went past the car" but it is quite common for a passenger in a car to be looking out of the window and be said to be "watching the houses (or trees or lamposts) going past". This is even more true of passengers in trains or boats where the passenger is separated from the driver or pilot. – BoldBen Jul 26 '18 at 14:58

I agree with the other answers / comments that say, if A goes past B, or A passes B, that means that A is moving faster than B.  (B may be stationary.)

You say “please direct me to a good reference that can explain the exact meaning of the word.”  The standard references for the meanings of words are dictionaries.


Oxford English Dictionaries:

    • To or on the further side of.
      ‘he rode on past the crossroads’
      • In front of or from one side to the other of.
        ‘he began to drive slowly past the houses’

American Heritage Dictionary:

        So as to pass by or go beyond: He waved as he walked past.
        Beyond in position; farther than:  The house is a mile past the first stoplight.  They walked past the memorial in silence.

Collins English Dictionary:

      If you go past someone or something, you go near them and keep moving, so that they are then behind you.
      • I dashed past him and out of the door.
      • A steady procession of people filed past the coffin.
      • He was never able to get past the border guards.
      Synonyms: by, across, in front of


Oxford English Dictionaries:

      Go past or across; leave behind or on one side in proceeding.
      ‘the two vehicles had no room to pass each other’
      ‘she passed a rest area with a pay phone’

American Heritage Dictionary:

    • To move by or in front of something: The band passed and the crowd cheered.
    • To move past another vehicle: The sports car passed on the right.

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