Pronominal Verbs (Verbes Pronominaux)

The pronominal verbs are those conjugated with reflexive or reciprocal pronouns. In this case, the pronoun (me, te, se, nous, or vous) changes to reflect the subject of the verb. In the imperative forms the reflexive pronoun is used in its tonic form (te becomes toi) after the verb and a hyphen is written between them, cf.:

The particularities are shown in the following table:

  Simple tenses   Compound tenses   Imperative
  je me lave I wash myself
tu te laves
   il se lave
   elle se lave
  je me suis lavé, -ée I have washed myself
tu t'es lavé, -ée
   il s'est lavé
   elle s'est lavée
lave-toi! wash yourself!
   qu'il se lave!
   qu'elle se lave!
  nous nous lavons
vous vous lavez
   ils se lavent
   elles se lavent
  nous nous sommes lavés, -ées
vous vous êtes lavés, -ées
   ils se sont lavés
   elles se sont lavées
lavez -vous!
   qu'ils se lavent!
   qu'elles se lavent!
  Negative forms        
  je ne me lave pas   je ne me suis pas lavé   ne te lave pas!
  Interrogative forms        
  quand te laves-tu?   quand t'es-tu lavé?    

Pronominal verbs are classified into three major groups according to their meaning: reflexive, reciprocal, and idiomatic.


Reflexive verbs

In a reflexive action the subject performs the action on itself. Note that English does not indicate reflexive meaning if it can be inferred from the context. In French, however, it must be explicitly stated by using a reflexive pronoun. Here is a list of common reflexive verbs:

  • s'asseoir  to sit (down)
  • s'appeler  to be called
  • s'arrêter  to stop
  • se brosser  to brush
  • se coucher  to go to bed
  • s'habiller  to get dressed
  • se laver  to wash
  • se lever  to get up
  • se promener  to take a walk
  • se réveiller  to wake up


If the subject performs the action on someone else, the verb is not reflexive. Compare the difference in meaning between se raser and raser in the following examples:

When reflexive  verbs are used with parts of the body, they take the definite article (le, la, les) rather than the possessive article as in English:


Reciprocal verbs

The reciprocal action occurs between more than one subject. English often uses the phrase 'each other' to represent this kind of action. Here is a list of common reciprocal verbs:

  • s'aimer  to love each other
  • se détester  to hate each other
  • se disputer  to argue
  • s'embrasser  to kiss
  • se parler to talk to each other
  • se quitter  to leave each other
  • se regarder  to look at each other
  • se retrouver  to meet each other
  • se téléphoner  to telephone each other



Idiomatic verbs

Some pronominal verbs are idiomatic and do not represent reflexive or reciprocal actions per se. The list below includes common idiomatic pronominal verbs:

  • s'amuser  to have fun
  • se dépêcher  to hurry
  • s'endormir  to fall asleep
  • s'ennuyer  to be bored
  • s'entendre  to get along
  • se fâcher  to get angry
  • se marier  to get married
  • se passer  to happen
  • se reposer  to rest
  • se sentir  to feel
  • se souvenir de  to remember
  • se taire  to be silent
  • se tromper  to make a mistake
  • se trouver  to be (situated)




See also Reflexive pronouns, Passive voice.

Next Topic
Previous Topic

Descriptive French Grammar
French Language Main Page

Modern Romance Languages Main Page
Orbis Latinus Main Page

This page is part of Orbis Latinus
© Zdravko Batzarov