Les verbes pronominaux: reflexive verbs in French

What are les verbs pronominaux?

Les verbes pronominaux (reflexive verbs) are always used with a reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nous, vous, se) that agrees in number with the subject of the sentence. This pronoun always comes before the verb.

Learn about the different types of reflexive verbs in French with Lingolia and master their conjugation, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.

Example

Hier je me suis promené en ville. Soudain je me suis arrêté. Je ne reconnaissais pas la rue. Oh non! Je m'étais perdu. Puis je me suis de nouveau souvenu du chemin.

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Types of reflexive verbs in French

Reflexive verbs are always preceded by a reflexive pronoun that agrees with the subject. Some verbs are exclusively reflexive, such as se baignerto have a bath, s’écrierto exclaim, s’en allerto leave, s’enfuirto flee, s’évanouirto faint, s’envolerto fly away, se fier à quelqu’unto count on someone, se méfier de quelqu’unto be suspicious of someone etc.

Many verbs have two forms: reflexive and non-reflexive. Using a verb in its reflexive form can bring a change of meaning.

  • basic reflexive verbs: se leverto get up, s’inscrireto register, se coifferto do your hair, …
  • reflexive verbs with a reciprocal meaning: se parlerto talk to each other, se téléphonerto call each other, se rencontrerto meet each other, …
  • reflexive verbs that have a passive meaning: se prononcerto pronounce, se préparerto prepare, …
  • verbs that have a different meaning in their reflexive form: passer/se passerto pass/to happen, trouver/se trouverto find/to be located

How to conjugate reflexive verbs in French

French Reflexive Pronouns

Personal Pronoun je tu il/elle/on nous vous ils/elles
Reflexive Pronoun me te se nous vous se

When conjugating reflexive verbs we have to remember the following things:

  • The reflexive pronoun comes after the personal pronoun and before the conjugated form of the verb. As shown in the table above, the reflexive pronoun always matches the personal pronoun.
    Example:
    Je me suis promené en ville.I went walking in town.
  • If the verb begins with a vowel, we leave off the e from me/te/se and join the reflexive pronoun and the verb with an apostrophe. This is known as elision.
    Example:
    Tu t’es promené en ville.You went walking in town.
  • In negative sentences, ne comes before the reflexive pronoun while the second part of the negation (pas) comes after the conjugated verb.
    Example:
    Je ne me suis pas promené en ville.I didn’t go walking in town.

See the tables below for model conjugations of reflexive verbs. To conjugate any French verb, go to our verb conjugator.

Person Example
1st person singular (I) je me laveI wash (myself)
2nd person singular (you) tu te lavesyou wash (yourself)
3rd person singular (he/she/it) il se lavehe washes (himself)
1st person plural (we) nous nous lavonswe wash (ourselves)
2nd person plural (you) vous vous lavezyou wash (yourself)
3rd person plural (they) ils se laventthey wash (themselves)
  • Reflexive verbs in all tenses:
Tense Example
Présent je me laveI wash (myself)
Passé composé je me suis lavéI washed (myself)
Imparfait je me lavaisI washed/was washing (myself)
Plus-que-parfait je m’étais lavéI had washed (myself)
Futur proche je vais me laverI’m going to wash (myself)
Futur simple je me laveraiI will wash (myself)

Reflexive verbs and the participe passé

Reflexive verbs always form the passé composé with the auxiliary verb être + past participle.

The participe passé of reflexive verbs generally agrees with the subject.

Example:
Nous nous sommes levés très tôt.We got up very early.

However, the participe passé does not agree with the subject if the verb is followed by a direct object.

Example:
Elle s’est lavé les mains.She washed her hands. (Elle s’est lavé quoi? – les mains)
but: Elle s’est lavée.

Remember: the past participle never agrees with an indirect object.

Example:
Marie et Laurent se sont téléphoné.Marie and Laurent called each other on the phone. (téléphoner à qui?)

The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the follwing verbs: se téléphonerto phone each other, se parlerto talk to each other, se mentirto lie to each other, se plaire (complaire/déplaire)to like each other, se sourire{{info::to smile at each other}}, se rireto laugh at each other, se nuireto hurt each other, se succéderto succeed each other, se suffireto be enough, se ressemblerto look like each other, s’en vouloirto be annoyed with each other. This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.

se rendre compte

Although it is reflexive, the participle of the verb se rendre compte (to realise)does not agree with the subject of the sentence. This is because the word compteacts as a direct object (se rendre quoi? → compte).

Example:
Elle s’est rendu compte de son erreur.She will have realised her mistake.