Les verbes pronominaux (reflexive verbs)

Introduction

Reflexive verbs are called les verbes pronominaux in French. These are verbs that are used with a reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nous, vous). The reflexive pronoun always agrees with the subject of the sentence.

Beispiel

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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Usage

Here are some common verbs that are reflexive in French:

FrançaisEnglish
se baigner bathe
s’écrier exclaim
s’en aller go away
s’enfuir flee
s’évanouir faint
se lever get up
se noyer drown
se réveiller wake up
s’appeler to be called/named
se doucher shower
s’écrouler collapse
s’endormir fall asleep
s’évader avoid
se fier à quelqu’un trust s.o.
se méfier de quelqu’un distrust s.o.
se promener take a walk

Construction

  • We conjugate the verb and use the appropriate reflexive pronoun. The reflexive pronoun comes between the main pronoun and the verb.
    Example:
    Je me suis promené en ville.I went walking in town.
  • If the verb begins with a vowel, we omit the e of me/te/se and join the reflexive pronoun and the verb with an apostrophe.
    Example:
    Tu t’es promené en ville.You went walking in town.
  • In negations, ne comes before the reflexive pronoun and the second part of the negation comes after the conjugated verb.
    Example:
    Je ne me suis pas promené en ville.I didn’t go walking in town.

Reflexive Pronouns

personal pronoun je tu il/elle/on nous vous ils/elles
reflexive pronoun me te se nous vous se

Example for all forms in the present

personexample
1st person singular je me laveI wash (myself)
2nd person singular tu te lavesyou wash (yourself)
3rd person singular il se lavehe washes (himself)
1st person plural nous nous lavonswe wash (ourselves)
2nd person plural vous vous lavezyou wash (yourself)
3rd person plural ils se laventthey wash (themselves)

Example in the 1st person singular for all tenses

tenseexample
présent je me laveI wash (myself)
passé composé je me suis lavéI’ve washed (myself)
imparfait je me lavaisI washed/was washing (myself)
plus-que-parfait je m’étais lavéI had washed (myself)
futur composé je vais me laverI’m going to wash (myself)
futur simple je me laveraiI will wash (myself)

Agreement of the participe passé

The reflexive verbs are always constructed using the auxiliary verb être.

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

Example:
Elle s’est lavée.She washed herself.

The subject (elle) and the direct object (s’= reflexive pronoun) are the same person, so the participle agrees with the subject.

But the participe passé does not agree with the subject if the verb is followed by a direct object which is different from the subject.

Example:
Elle s’est lavé les mains.She washed her hands.

When using the verb se rendre compte, the participe passé does also not agree with the subject. This is because compte acts as a direct object.

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

The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the follwing verbs: se téléphoner, se parler, se mentir, se plaire (complaire/déplaire), se sourire, se rire, se nuire, se succéder, se suffire, se ressembler, s’en vouloir. This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.

Example:
Marie et Laurent se sont téléphoné.Marie and Laurent spoke on the telephone. (téléphoner à)