French Reflexive Verbs: 6 Things You Should Know
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French Reflexive Verbs: 6 Things You Should Know

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Reading time: 4 minutes Difficulty: Intermediate- Advanced

I can sense your reaction. It goes like this: French reflexive verbs? Say whaat?

But fear not, we will change all that with a quick read. Before you know it, you’ll be quite knowledgeable about the topic (or not)—it all really depends on how interested you are.

But anyway, let’s start.

1. What is it, really?

Reflexive verbs are action words that refer to the same subject and object. Meaning, the person being talked about in the sentence is doing the action to himself.

In English, it often appears with reflexive pronouns such as myself, himself, herself, or themselves. (Example: The cat bathed itself.)

Reflexive verbs work basically the same way in French as in English. However, it is used more widely in the former than we normally do in English.

2.What it is made up of?

A reflexive verb consists of a reflexive pronoun and a verb. In dictionaries, these verbs appear as se + the infinitive form.

Some common examples:

  • s’adresser à to address, speak to
  • s’approcher de to approach
  • s’amuser to enjoy oneself
  • s’appeler to be called
  • s’asseoir to sit down
  • se baigner to swim
  • se brosser (les cheveux, les dents) to brush (one’s hair, one’s teeth)
  • se casser (la jambe, le bras) to break (one’s leg, one’s arm)
  • se coiffer to fix one’s hair
  • se coucher to go to bed
  • se couper to cut oneself
  • se dépêcher to hurry
  • se déshabiller to get undressed
  • se doucher to take a shower
  • s’énerver to get annoyed
  • se laver to wash

3. Common things about the different reflexive verbs

The group of verbs known as reflexive verbs share some distinct commonalities. These include the following:

  • They all have something to do with body parts, hygiene, personal states, clothing, or location.
  • The reflexive verbs are also often used to describe the common everyday things you do to yourself.

 

 

 4. How to form the reflexive verbs in the present tense

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use the reflexive verbs.

Step 1: decide which reflexive pronoun to use, based on the subject (which is also the object of the sentence). It could be either of the following:

Subject pronounReflexive PronounWhat It Means
jeme (m')myself
tute (t')yourself
il/elle/onse (s')himself/ herself/ itself/ oneself
nousnousourselves
vousvousyourself (formal)/ yourselves (formal or informal)
ils/ellesse (s')themselves

Note that:

  • me becomes m’ when followed by a vowel, most words that begin with an h, and the French word y. Same thing happens to te which becomes t’, and se which becomes s’.
  • Nous, vous, and se can also be used to refer to two or more people and can mean to each other or to one another. Example: les troisfilles se ressemblent (the three girls resemble each other).

 

Step 2: Use this basic format: subject pronoun + reflexive pronoun + reflexive verb.

For example:     Je me lève. I get up.

Il s’habille. He is getting dressed.

Step 3: Determine the endings to use. The present tense form and the endings to be used remain the same: -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, and -ent. (For more information about present tense endings, see the lesson on present tense by clicking HERE).

Some very simple examples that involves a lot of washing: 

je me lave.I wash myself.
tu te laves.You wash yourself.
il se lave.He washes himself.
nous nous lavons.We wash ourselves.
vous vous lavez.You wash yourselves.
ils se lavent.They wash themselves.

 

 5. How to form reflexive verbs in the past tense

To form the reflexive verbs in the past tense, we use the ever-helpful verb être as its auxiliary. Here is a little step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Choose the correct conjugated form of être and pair it with the past participle of the reflexive verb. Note that the past participle for reflexive verbs is the same for the regular verbs.

For example:

je me suis amusé(e)I had fun
tu t'es amusé(e)you had fun
il / on s'est amuséhe / one had fun
elle s'est amuséeshe had fun
nous nous sommes amusé(e)swe had fun
vous vous êtes amusé(e)(s) you had fun
ils se sont amusésthey had fun
elles se sont amusées they had fun

Step 2 : Use this basic format: subject pronoun + reflexive pronoun + conjugated être  + reflexive verb.

Remember that the reflexive pronoun still precedes the compound reflexive verb form.

Step 3: Make the past participle agree with the gender and number of the reflexive pronoun. Note how in the examples in step 1 there is an extra –e and –s added at the end of some of the past participles? This happens in most cases: an e is added to the past participle to make it agree with a feminine subject and an s is added for a plural subject.

As always, there are exceptions. So –

Step 4: Determine if there is a need for agreement or not. Remember that you do not need to bother with past participle agreements during the following cases:

  • If the reflexive pronoun is used as an indirect object.

The following reflexive verbs are always used with an indirect object reflexive pronoun.

s'acheterto buy
se demanderto wonder
se direto say
sedonner to give
s'écrireto write
se faire malto hurt
s'imaginerto imagine, to think
se parlerto talk
se plaire (à faire...)to enjoy (doing...)
se procurerto obtain
se promettreto promise
se raconterto tell
se rendre compte deto realize
se rendre visiteto visit
se reprocherto criticize, blame
se ressemblerto resemble
se rireto mock
se sourireto smile
se téléphonerto call

  • If the reflexive verb is followed by a noun without a preposition between the two.
  • If the sentence contains a reflexive pronoun and another object pronoun.

6. Where to place the reflexive pronouns

There are three simple things you need to remember when using reflexive pronouns and these are :

  • For present tense uses, the reflexive pronoun always comes BEFORE the verb.

Example: Elle se couche tôt.She goes to bed early.

  • For past tense uses, the reflexive pronoun comes before être.
  • For negative commands (telling someone not to do something), the reflexive pronoun also comes BEFORE the verb.

Example: Ne vous habillez pas.Do not get dressed.

  • For positive commands, the reflexive pronoun comes AFTER the verb.

Example: Lève-toi !Get up! 

Quick tip: You use toi when you tell someone TO DO something, and t’ or te when you DO NOT want him to do it.

Remember: toi for positive, te (t’) for negative.

 

Quick reminders before we end this article:

  • Reflexive verbs are used when the subject and object are one and the same which means the subject does the action upon himself.
  • A reflexive verb is made up of a reflexive pronoun and a verb.
  • The reflexive pronouns are: me, te, se, nous, vous, and se.

So with that, we say bye bye!

say good bye

P.S: If you need clarifications about the topics, please ask us in the comment section.

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About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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