Les verbes pronominaux: pronominal verbs in French

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What are pronominal verbs in French?

Pronominal verbs (les verbs pronominaux) are verbs that take a reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nous, vous, se).

The reflexive pronoun always comes before the verb and corresponds to the subject.

Learn about the different types of pronominal 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 promenée en ville.

Soudain je me suis arrêtée car je ne reconnaissais pas la rue. Je m’étais perdue !

Heureusement, je me suis souvenue que j’avais un plan dans mon sac à dos.

Après quelques minutes, j’ai repris mon chemin et je me suis rendue au musée d’art moderne.

Sur le chemin du retour, je me suis acheté une glace. Je l’avais bien méritée !

How to recognise French pronominal verbs

Pronominal verbs always take a reflexive pronoun that corresponds to the subject of the sentence:

Example:
Je me suis trompé d’adresse.I’ve got the wrong address.
subject = je + reflexive pronoun = me

The table below shows the French reflexive pronouns:

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

Info

If the pronoun used does not correspond to the subject of the verb, the verb is not pronominal.

Examples:
Je me suis trompé d’adresse.I’ve got the wrong address.
subject = je; pronoun = me → pronominal verb
Je te conseille d’arriver à l’heure.I’d advise you to be on time.
subject = je (1st person singular); pronoun = te (2nd person singular) → not a pronominal verb

How to conjugate French pronominal verbs

When conjugating pronominal verbs, we have to remember the following things:

  • The reflexive pronoun comes after the subject pronoun and before the conjugated verb. As shown in the table above, the reflexive pronoun always matches the subject pronoun.
    Example:
    Je me suis promené en ville.I went walking in town.
  • If the verb begins with a vowel, we drop the e from me/te/se and connect 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 pronominal 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)
  • Pronominal 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)

Pronominal verbs and the participe passé

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

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

Example:
Nous nous sommes levés très tôt.We got up very early.
1st person plural subject (nous)participe passé + s

However, the participe passé does not agree with the subject if the direct object comes after the verb.

Example:
Elle s’est lavé les mains.She washed underline">her hands.
direct object = les mains; placed after the verb → no agreement
but: Elle s’est lavée.
direct object = elle-même (se); placed before the verb → participe passé + é

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.
indirect object: téléphoner à qui ?

The participe passé does not agree with the subject of reciprocal 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.

se rendre compte

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

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

Types of pronominal verbs in French

We can categorise French pronominal verbs into different types.

1. Exclusively pronominal verbs

Some verbs are exclusively pronominal; i.e. they always take a reflexive pronoun.

Examples:
s’évanouirto faint
the verb évanouir doesn’t exist
se méfierto mistrust
the verb méfier doesn’t exist

Some of the most common exclusively pronominal verbs include: s’absenter, s’abstenir, s’accroupir, s’affairer, s’agenouiller, s’autoproclamer, se blottir, se démener, s’ébattre, s’écrier, s’écrouler, s’efforcer, s’emparer, s’empresser, s’enfuir, s’ensuivre, s’entraider, s’envoler, s’esclaffer, s’évader, s’évanouir, s’évertuer, s’exclamer, s’extasier, se fier, se goinfrer, s’immiscer, se marrer, se méfier, se méprendre, se morfondre, s’obstiner, se prélasser, se raviser, se rebeller, se réfugier, se réincarner, se repentir, se souvenir, se suicider, se tapir…

Note

The participe passé always agrees with the subject of an exclusively pronominal verb.

Example:
Les mésanges se sont envolées à mon approche.The blue tits flew away as I approached them.
feminine plural subject (les mésanges)participe passé + -es

2. Verbs that change their meaning in their pronominal form

A few verbs have two forms: pronominal and standard. Depending on which one we use, the verb has a different meaning.

Examples:
As-tu rendu tes livres à la bibliothèque ?Did you return your books to the library?
rendre = to give something back
Est-ce que tu t’es rendu à la bibliothèque ?Did you go to the library?
se rendre = to go somewhere

Common examples of verbs that change their meaning in their pronominal form include: apercevoir/s’apercevoir de, appeler/s’appeler, attendre/s’attendre à, connaître/s’y connaître en, douter/se douter de, entendre/s’entendre, faire/se faire à, mettre/se mettre à, passer/se passer, plaindre/, se plaindre de, rendre/se rendre à, tromper/se tromper, trouver/se trouver, servir/se servir…

3. Reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs (les verbes prominaux de sens réfléchi) are verbs where the the subject and the object are one and the same; the verb reflects back on the person(s) performing it.

Example:
Marcel s’est levé de bonne heure.Marcel got up early.
literally: Marcel got himself up early

Note

In colloquial language, French speakers sometimes use a non pronominal verb with a reflexive pronoun, even if it’s not required.

This is often the case with the verb acheterto buy.

Examples :
Rosalie a acheté un appartement à Strasbourg.
→ Rosalie s’est acheté un appartement à Strasbourg.Rosalie bought a flat in Strasbourg.

4. Reciprocal verbs

With reciprocal verbs (les verbes pronominaux de sens réciproque), the reflexive pronoun means 'each other', meaning that these verbs are only ever used in the plural.

Common examples of French reciprocal verbs include: se battre, se donner, s’entendre, s’envoyer, se lancer, se parler, se réconcilier, se rencontrer, se téléphoner…

Examples:
Tamara et sa sœur se sont téléphoné la semaine dernière.Tamara and her sister spoke on the phone last week.
Nous nous battons parfois mais nous nous réconcilions toujours.We fight sometimes but we always make up.

5. Pronominal verbs with a passive meaning

We can use certain verbs with a reflexive pronoun to give them a passive meaning (les verbes pronominaux de sens passif).

Examples:
Le t de mot ne se prononce pas.The t in the word mot isn’t pronounced.
= n’est pas prononcé
Cette soupe se déguste chaude ou froide.This soup can be eaten hot or cold.
= peut être déguestée

Top 90 pronominal verbs in French

We’ve collected the 90 most useful pronominal verbs in French and sorted them by level to help you learn them in the most efficient way.

Not sure about your level? Try out our free French level test to find out!