Do you know how to use reflexive verbs in French? They can be tricky, there’s no doubt about it. And it’s exactly why we created this guide to help you out, so you can be acing them in no time!
Below is a table showing the corresponding subject pronouns and reflexive pronouns.
|Subject Pronoun||Reflexive Pronoun|
|Je (I)||me (myself)|
|Tu (You)||te (yourself)|
|Il/Elle/On (He/She/ It/We)||se (him/her/itself, oneself, ourselves)|
|Nous (We)||nous (ourselves)|
|Vous (Plural/Formal You)||vous (yourselves)|
|Ils/Elles (They)||se (themselves)|
Reflexive pronouns are always accompanied by a reflexive verb. Now, reflexive verbs are easy to understand – they basically depict an action that is self-inflicted onto the subject. For example:
He cut himself while chopping vegetables. (He= subject pronoun + cut = reflexive verb + himself = reflexive pronoun).
Now in French, you’ll find it to be a little different. Let’s take the same example.
Il s’est coupé en hachant des légumes (Il = subject pronoun + s’ = reflexive pronoun + est coupé from the verb couper = reflexive verb)
Next, let’s look at the different situations in which you’d use reflexive pronouns and verbs in French.
When describing your (or someone’s) mental or emotional state, both a reflexive verb and pronoun will most likely be used. In this case, the action isn’t being self-inflicted onto the subject but instead reflects how the subject feels mentally or emotionally. These are immaterial actions as opposed to physical ones.
Ils s’amusent (They are having fun)
Je m’inquiète (I am worrying
Tu te dépêche (You are hurrying)
Note: There are some instances to watch out for when you’ll be dealing with a pronoun that functions as a direct object and not as a reflexive. You can easily spot these in sentences where an action is being carried out on someone else. For example: est-ce qu’il t’ennuie? (Is he boring you?). Here, t’ isn’t a reflexive pronoun as the action is being done to you by someone else.
Reflexive verbs are used for describing physical actions that the subject carries out on themselves. To give you an idea, these actions can be ones you’d do to your body or as a part of your daily routine for example.
Je m’habille(I get dressed)
Elle se réveille (She wakes up)
Vous vous brossez les cheveux (You brush your hair)
The video below is a great way to learn more about French reflexive verbs:
Verbs in Need
Some verbs cannot exist or don’t make grammatical sense without the presence of reflexive pronouns. Unfortunately there isn’t any trick to remember these, apart from simply practicing.
Se souvenir de moi (To remember me)
Vous vous moquez de moi (You’re making fun of me)
In these cases, additional words and information need to be added to the sentence for it to make sense. In contrary, if the reflexive pronouns are removed the meaning of the verb changes. ( se server means “to use” but without ‘se’, it means ‘to serve’)
Reflexive Verbs + Passé Composé
As we know the Passé Composé conjugates with the auxiliary verbs être and avoir. However when it comes to reflexive verbs, the constructions happen with only être.
Nous nous sommes assis à l’arrière (We sat at the back)
Important to remember:
- When the Passé Composé is used in sentences with reflexive verbs, the past participles need to agree with gender and number. Taking the example above, because of nous (we), the verb s’asseoir ( assis ) takes an s at the end.
- When there is a direct object in the sentence, there is no need for an agreement. For example: Nous nous sommes brossé les dents (We brushed our teeth). Here, les dents is the direct object which is receiving the action.
Reflexive Verbs and Infinitives
In their original form as found within a dictionary, reflexive verbs have a fixed infinitive: se. But when used in a sentence they have to agree with the subject. As a rule, the reflexive pronoun needs to always be before the infinitive verb.
Se réveiller (to wake)
Je vais me réveiller à six heures du matin
(I am going to wake [myself] up at seven in the morning)
1. All reflexive pronouns are always placed before the pronouns en or y.
Je m’y suis endormie (I fell asleep there)
2. The formula to use for negative sentences with reflexive pronouns is the following: Subject Pronoun + ne + Reflexive Pronoun ( Pronom Réfléchi ) + Auxiliary Verb ( être/avoir ) + pas + Past Participle ( Participe Passé )
Il ne s’énervait pas (He was not getting angry)
3. Reflexive pronouns are always placed before the auxiliary verb (être/avoir) and the past participle (participe passé).
Elle s’est endormie (She fell asleep)
And there you have it – all there is to know on the tricky French reflexive verbs.
Why not try our quiz below to put what you’ve learnt today to the test?
See you next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you do need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our online French Tutors.