Much like cou-de-pied and coupé, passé and retiré are often used interchangeably. Is this wrong? I would say no because we’ve come to a point in ballet where usage often determines meaning, but I do make a distinction between the terms and maybe you do too!
Passé as a past participle means passed, while retiré means pulled back, pulled up, or drawn away.
Passé is pronounced [pɑse], pa- as in the beginning of the word paw and -ssé like the word “say” in English (although avoiding the final y on the English word).
Retiré is pronounced [ʀ(ə)tiʀe], re- sounds like the sound of an R (the E can be pronounced as a schwa sound or not pronounced at all), -ti- is similar to the word “tea” in English, and -ré sounds like “ray” in English (again avoiding the final y).
Due to the difference in definition, I use retiré as a position and passé as an action. Retiré denotes a drawing back or pulling up from a crossed position (5th or 3rd). The foot peels off the floor moving through cou-de-pied and traveling to a position devant, derrière, or de côté in relationship to the knee.
Passé, being an action that passes from front to back or back to front, is most traditionally an action where the foot is drawn up from a crossed position, moving through cou-de-pied devant, through retiré devant, through retiré de côté, through retiré derrière, through cou-de-pied derrière, closing in a crossed position in the back (or vice versa).
Why should we differentiate between the two? In terms of combinations, I differentiate between the two because dancers understand that the retiré will close in the same crossed position it started in (if the right foot was crossed in front the right foot will return to that position after executing the retiré), while passé will change to the opposite 5th or 3rd.
While I am consistent about differentiating between these two terms in class, I remind students that some teachers do not distinguish and use these terms interchangeably. Dancers who understand the two terms as separate learn quickly by watching the teacher whether he/she distinguishes between the terms and react accordingly. (You may also want to stress to your dancers that there is no right and wrong with a new teacher’s terminology. It behooves them to watch, listen, and learn regardless of the teacher’s use of terminology)