Easy Learning French

Reflexive verbs - Easy Learning Grammar French

What is a reflexive verb?
A reflexive verb is one where the subject and object are the same, and where the action ‘reflects back’ on the subject. It is used with a reflexive pronoun such as myself, yourself and herself in English, for example, I washed myself; He shaved himself.

1 Using reflexive verbs

  • In French, reflexive verbs are much more common than in English, and many are used in everyday French. They are shown in dictionaries as se plus the infinitive (se means himself, herself, itself, themselves or oneself). se is called a reflexive pronoun.
Tipse changes to s’ in front of a word starting with a vowel, most words starting with h, and the French word y.
  • Reflexive verbs are often used to describe things you do (to yourself) every day or that involve a change of some sort (going to bed, sitting down, getting angry, going to sleep). Some of the most common French reflexive verbs are listed here:
s’amuserto play, to enjoy oneself
s’appelerto be called
s’arrêterto stop
s’asseoirto sit down
se baignerto go swimming
se coucherto go to bed
se dépêcherto hurry
s’habillerto get dressed
s’intéresser à quelque choseto be interested in something
se laverto wash, to have a wash
se leverto get up, to rise, to stand up
se passerto take place, to happen, to go
se promenerto go for a walk
se rappelerto remember
se réveillerto wake up
se trouverto be (situated)
Qu’est-ce qui se passe?What’s happening?
Le soleil se lève à cinq heures.The sun rises at five o’clock.
Asseyez-vous!Sit down!
  • Note that se and s’ are very rarely translated as himself and so on in English.
  • Some French verbs can be used with a reflexive pronoun or without a reflexive pronoun, for example, the verbs appeler and s’appeler, and arrêter and s’arrêter. Sometimes, however, their meaning may change.
Appelle le chien.Call the dog.
Je m’appelle Jacques.I’m called Jacques.
Il arrête le moteur.He switches off the engine.
Elle s’arrête devant une vitrine.She stops in front of a shop window.

2 Forming the present tense of reflexive verbs

  • To use a reflexive verb in French, you need to decide which reflexive pronoun to use. The forms shown in brackets in the table are used before a word starting with a vowel, most words starting with h, or the French word y.
Subject pronounReflexive pronounMeaning
jeme (m’)myself
tute (t’)yourself
il
elle
on
se (s’)himself
herself
itself
oneself
nousnousourselves
vousvousyourself (singular)
yourselves (plural)
ils
elles
se (s’)themselves
Je me lève tôt.I get up early.
Elle s’habille.She’s getting dressed.
Ils s’intéressent beaucoup aux animaux.They’re very interested in animals.
  • The present tense forms of a reflexive verb work in just the same way as an ordinary verb, except that the reflexive pronoun is used as well.
Reflexive formsMeaning
je me laveI wash (myself)
tu te lavesyou wash (yourself)
il se lave
elle se lave
on se lave
he washes (himself)
she washes (herself)
it washes (itself)
one washes (oneself)
nous nous lavonswe wash (ourselves)
vous vous lavezyou wash (yourself) (singular)
you wash (yourselves) (plural)
ils se lavent
elles se lavent
they wash (themselves)
  • Some reflexive verbs, such as s’asseoir (meaning to sit down), are irregular. Some of these irregular verbs are shown in the Verb tables.
  • For Verb tables, see supplement.

3 Where to put the reflexive pronoun

  • In the present tense, the reflexive pronoun almost always comes BEFORE the verb.
Je me couche tôt.I go to bed early.
Comment t’appelles-tu?What’s your name?
  • When telling someone NOT TO DO something, you put the reflexive pronoun BEFORE the verb as usual.
Ne te lève pas.Don’t get up.
Ne vous habillez pas.Don’t get dressed.
  • When telling someone TO DO something, you put the reflexive pronoun AFTER the verb and join the two words with a hyphen.
Lève-toi!Get up!
Dépêchez-vous!Hurry up!
Habillons-nous.Let’s get dressed.
TipWhen you are telling someone TO DO something, te or t’ changes to toi.
Assieds-toi.Sit down.
When you are telling someone NOT TO DO something, te or t’ is used, not toi.
Ne te lève pas.Don’t get up.

4 Each other and one another

  • We use each other in English when we are talking about two people, and one another when we are talking about three or more people. The French reflexive pronouns nous, vous and se can all mean two or more people.
Nous nous parlons tous les jours.We speak to each other every day.
On se voit demain?Shall we see each other tomorrow?
Les trois pays se ressemblent beaucoup.The three countries are really like one another.
Key points
  • A reflexive verb is made up of a reflexive pronoun and a verb.
  • The reflexive pronouns are: me, te, se, nous, vous, se (m’, t’, s’, nous, vous, s’ before a vowel, most words beginning with h and the French word y).
  • The reflexive pronoun comes before the verb, except when you are telling someone to do something.

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