I translated this as "They pass us." and was marked wrong and told the right answer was "They pass by us." And while I see the grammatical difference I don't see a meaningful on. i.e.: in English I feel like the "by" is not entirely necessary. Am I wrong?
I would say "They pass us" when a car passes us on a highway and "They pass by us" as a parade is passing by as I stand on the side.
I would translate your question as "they go before us". As in "We were here first!", "No, they go before us." Devant is "in front".
If you were given the audio, then it is correct. There is no audible difference between "il passe" and "ils passent".
In English, 'before' can refer to both time AND place, for example: He stands before us. Does this ambiguity translate to French, or do devant and avant have completely separate meanings?
Aaron. You are correct insofar as "before" can refer to time or place but your example us incorrect. He stands before us implies he is in a court and we are the jurors. In which case before is a preposition and takes the accusative case - us. If you want to say that he appears earlier, you'd have to say he appears before we (do).
"Passer devant" is defined in the Collins French Dictionary and Grammar as "to come before. Surely in that case it must be a legitimate alternative!
OK, nice information! So, Il passe devant nous will be "It/He comes before us", right?
The gentleman's voice sounds like he adds an extra syllable between 'passent' and 'devant'...
Surely "devant" implies "in front of" somewhere in the English translation? Hence would I be correct in saying "Ils passent derriere nous" also translates as "They pass by us" - but "from behind" understood?