The French reflexive verbs made easy

French reflexive verbs are much more common than in English, and many are used in everyday language. In today’s article, we’ve made it easy for you to understand the parts of grammar that you’ll be using. Wether you are taking online French classes or in-person lessons, you will feel more confident with these specific verbs.

Reflexive verbs in French

Table of content :

  1. What is a French reflexive verb in French ?
  2. What are the most common reflexive verbs ?
  3. How can you recognize French reflexive verbs ?
  4. Where do you add the pronoun in these verbs?
  5. What are the different types of French reflexive verbs?
  6. Reflexive or non reflexive verbs ?

What is a French reflexive verb in French ?

Initially, reflexive verbs are a type of pronominal verb, which means they include a pronoun.

To start with, let’s see what really is a pronominal verb :

  • Je lave mon chien = I wash my dog

Here, I make the action on my pet. Therefore, we don’t need a reflexive verb in this case.

  • Je me lave les dents = I wash my teeth

However, in this case, I do the action on myself. Therefore, that explains why we are using a reflexive verb here.

What are the most common French reflexive verbs ?

Furthermore, we also use a lot of reflexive verbs in everyday communication in French.

Useful reflexive verbs for your daily routine :

  • Se brosser (les cheveux/les dents) = to brush (your hair/teeth)
  • Se coiffer = to do one’s hair
  • Se coucher = to go to bed
  • Se doucher = to shower
  • S’habiller = to get dressed
  • Se laver = to wash oneself
  • Se lever = to get up
  • Se réveiller = to wake up

Additional French reflexive verbs :

And we could also use :

  • Se baigner = to bath or to swim
  • S’occuper de = to take care of
  • Se reposer = to rest
  • Se souvenir de = to remember about
common french reflexive verbs

How can you recognize reflexive verbs ?

You will then recognize them by paying attention to the pronouns that come before the verbs. Moreover, verbs with ‘nous nous‘ or ‘vous vous‘ are not a mistake. In fact, these are reflexive plural.

And here is how they look like :

  • Je > me
  • Tu > te
  • Il / Elle / On > se
  • Nous > nous
  • Vous > vous
  • Ils / Elles > se

The reflexive pronouns change with the subject.

Where do you add the pronoun in these verbs?

At the Présent ou Futur simple

Firstly, with simple tenses, the general structure is : subject + pronoun + verb.

For example, with the verb se lever (to get up) :

  • Je me lève
  • Tu te lèves
  • Il/Elle/On se lève
  • Nous nous levons
  • Vous vous levez
  • Ils/Elles se lèvent

But, be careful : when the verb starts with a vowel the pronouns me, te and se become m’, t’ and s’.

And for the negative, we have : subject + NE + pronoun + verb + PAS

With the Futur proche and semi-auxiliaries verbs

Then, the structure at the future proche will be : semi-auxiliary + pronoun + infinitive verb.

  • Je vais me maquiller = I’m going to do my makeup
  • Tu ne peux pas te reposer = You can’t rest
  • Ils doivent s’occuper du chien = They have to take care of the dog

At the passé composé and compound tenses

Finally, with compound tenses, we have : pronoun + auxiliary + past participle

Indeed, reflexive verbs are always used with the auxiliary être in past tenses like passé composé, plus que parfait, … As a result, the past participle must be in agreement with the subject.

  • Il ne s’est pas souvenu de son anniversaire = He didn’t remember his birthday
  • Nous nous sommes habillés rapidement = We quickly got dressed

Ultimately, to practice your conjugation, feel free to use Le Conjugueur.

pronominal verbs in french

What are the different types of French reflexive verbs?

For the reflexive pronominal verbs

In this first category of verbs, we do the action on ourselves.

  • Je lave mon vélo = I wash my bike
  • Je me lave = I wash myself
  • Je réveille mon mari à 7h = I wake up my husband at 7am
  • Je me réveille à 8h = I wake up at 8am

With reciprocal reflexive verbs

Two people do the action one toward each other.

  • Pierre aime Julie = Pierre loves Julie
  • Pierre et Julie s’aiment = Pierre and Julie love each other

Reflexive or non reflexive verbs ?

Last but not least, some verbs can be only reflexive. We have, for example, s’envoler (to fly), se moquer de (to make fun of) or s’évanouir (to faint).

But others can be both pronominal and non pronominal. This is quite important as the meaning will be different. Some examples are :

  • Aimer / S’aimer 
  • Laver / Se laver
  • Maquiller quelqu’un / Se maquiller
  • Passer / Se passer 
  • Promener / Se promener 
  • Téléphoner / Se téléphoner 
reflexive verbs

In conclusion, would you like to practice these verbs with a friendly, certified French teacher ?

Sign up for your first tailored French class today via my contact page.

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