If you’re serious about learning French, you NEED to learn Reflexive verbs
Reflexive verbs, also known as pronominal verbs or “se” verbs, and called “les verbes pronominaux” in French, are verbs that need a reflexive pronoun.
They usually are confusing for students.
But don’t worry if you feel lost
In today’s article you’re going to learn everything you need to know about Reflexive verbs in French.
Let’s do this.
Specific grammatical terms
Before we start, let’s be clear on a couple of specific grammatical terms:
subject pronouns and reflexive pronouns.
Do these two different types of pronouns ring a bell? You probably studied them at some point but it might be all a bit blurry now… Well, it won’t be for long! Here’s a quick reminder.
A) Subject pronouns
A subject pronoun determinates either someone or something that is doing an action (the action being illustrated by the verb).
For example, in the sentence “J’apprends le français” (I learn French), J’ (je) is the subject pronoun.
Subject pronouns can either be feminine or masculine, and singular or plural to agree with the noun they replace.
For example: “le garçon est mignon” (the boy is cute) can be replaced by “il est mignon” (he is cute).
The French subject pronouns are:
|Je → I
|Nous → We
|Tu → You
|Vous → You
|Il → He, it
Elle → She, it
On → One, we, they
|Ils, elles → they
B) Reflexive pronouns
Reflexive pronouns indicate that the subject is doing the action to itself.
For example, in the sentence, “Je me regarde” (I look at myself), me is the reflexive pronoun.
Reflexive pronouns are used with pronominal verbs, agree with the subject in number and gender and may be direct or indirect objects.
The French reflexive pronouns are:
|Me, m’ → myself
|Nous → Ourselves
|Tu, t’ → Yourself
|Vous → Yourselves
|Se, s’ → himself, herself, itself
|Se, s’ → themselves
So, you are now clear about the fact that a conjugated verb needs a subject pronoun and that a pronominal verb is a bit more greedy as it takes a subject pronoun as well a reflexive pronoun.
- Pronominal verbs
A) Why are there some « se »verbs?
Unlike in English where the person who receives the action (if it’s the same as the person who does the action/the subject pronoun) is often implicitly understood, in French, you must use a pronominal verb.
Look at the following example :
Je me lève → I get up (meaning I get myself up).
If you don’t use the pronominal verb se lever but its non-pronominal version lever, you totally change the meaning of your sentence !
Je lève → I raise
B) Three main types of reflexive verbs
There are three main types of pronominal verbs.
I have listed a fair amount of the main ones on my « French reflexive verbs lists and exercises » PDF. Have a look!
a) Reflexive verbs
To make things easier, we can say that reflexive verbs either :
- Reflect the action back onto the subject ( e.g. Je m’habille → I dress myself / I am getting dressed).
- Have the meaning of « each other » (e.g. Ils s’embrassent → They kiss each other).
- Often have to do with one ‘s relationship, body, or clothes.
Regarding that last point : when a reflexive verb refers to a part of the body, some grammar rules differ from English to French.
In English, you would use a possessive adjective to say that the part of the body mentioned belongs to the subject (the owner of that body part).
I brush my teeth → Whose teeth am I brushing ? Mine (the ones belonging to I).
My is the possessive adjective.
In French, things are slightly different. Indeed, you don’t use a possessive adjective to refer to the owner but a pronominal verb (well a reflexive pronoun and a definite article to be more precise).
Je me brosse les dents.
Me is the reflexive pronoun and les is the definite article.
b) Reciprocal verbs
Reciprocal verbs being a type of pronominal verbs, they have the same characteristics as reflexive verbs.
However, they have a distinctive feature: the reflexive pronoun indicates that the action of the verb happens between two or more subjects which have an impact on each other.
For example :
Ils s’aiment → they love each other.
Vous vous battez → you fight with one another.
c) Idiomatic pronominal verbs
This last type of pronominal verbs uses a reflexive pronoun to change the meaning of the non-pronominal verb. Other than that, the reflexive pronoun serves no purpose.
For example :
Elles s’entendent bien → they get along.
Elles entendent bien → they hear well.
Now It’s Your Turn
French reflexive verbs are usually a bit tricky to get. I hope this blog has helped you understand better.
Try to do some of the exercises I have created on this topic !
Remember, good practice makes perfect !
Let me know by leaving a comment below.