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French Pronominal Voice and Pronominal Verbs

French verbs that require a reflexive pronoun

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Pronominal verbs are verbs that need a reflexive pronoun in addition to a subject pronoun, because the subject(s) performing the action of the verb are the same as the object(s) being acted upon.

   Nous nous habillons.   We're getting dressed (dressing ourselves).
   Tu te baignes.   You're taking a bath (bathing yourself).

The pronominal voice is much more common in French than in English - many French verbs that require the pronominal voice are equivalent to the active voice in English. In French, you can recognize pronominal verbs by the se which precedes the infinitive.

French has three types of pronominal verbs:
  1. reflexive verbs
  2. reciprocal verbs
  3. idiomatic pronominal verbs
There are two steps in conjugating pronominal verbs. First, take the reflexive pronoun se, change it to agree with the subject of the verb, and place it directly in front of the verb. Then, as with all verbs, conjugate the infinitive according to whether it's an -er, -ir, -re, or irregular verb.

   Elle se brosse les dents.   She's brushing her teeth.
   Vous vous levez tard.   You get up late.

(See what pronominal verbs look like conjugated into all the simple tenses: se moquer | se souvenir)


French Reflexive Verbs - Verbes à sens réfléchi

The most common pronominal verbs are reflexive verbs, which indicate that the subject of the verb is performing the action upon himself, herself, or itself. Reflexive verbs mainly have to do with parts of the body,* clothing, personal circumstance, or location. Here are some common reflexive verbs:

   s'adresser à     to address, speak to
   s'approcher de     to approach
   s'asseoir     to sit down
   se baigner     to bathe, 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
   s'enrhumer     to catch a cold
   se fâcher     to get angry
   se fatiguer     to get tired
   se fier     to trust
   s'habiller     to get dressed
   s'habituer à     to get used to
   s'imaginer     to imagine
   s'intéresser à     to be interested in
   se laver (les mains, la figure)     to wash (one's hands, one's face)
   se lever     to get up
   se maquiller     to put on makeup
   se marier (avec)     to get married (to)
   se méfier de     to mistrust, distrust, beware of/about
   se moquer de     to make fun of (someone else)
   se moucher     to blow one's nose
   se noyer     to drown
   se peigner     to comb one's hair
   se promener   to take a walk
   se raser     to shave
   se refroidir     to cool down, get cold
   se regarder     to look at oneself
   se reposer     to rest
   se réveiller     to wake up
   se soûler     to get drunk
   se souvenir de     to remember
   se taire     to be quiet

   Tu te reposes.   You're resting.
   Il se lève à 8h00.   He gets up at 8:00.

Note that many reflexive verbs also have a non-reflexive use; that is, they can describe someone performing the action of the verb on someone or something else:

   Elle se promène.   She's taking a walk.
     vs
   Elle promène le chien.   She's taking the dog for a walk.

   Je me lave les mains.   I'm washing my hands.
     vs
   Je lave le bébé.   I'm washing the baby.

*When referring to parts of the body, the French possessive pronoun is rarely used. Instead, the owner is indicated with the reflexive pronoun and the definite article precedes the body part.

Note: Some verbs that are normally not pronominal may be used with a reflexive pronoun in order to avoid the passive voice, in a construction known as the passive reflexive.


More of this lesson
Pronominal voice, pronominal verbs, and reflexive verbs
Reciprocal verbs and idiomatic pronominal verbs
Pronominal verbs and word order with negation and questions
Pronominal verbs, compound tenses, and agreement
Pronominal verbs as infinitives or present participles
Pronominal verbs test

French grammar glossary
Related Video
French Dialogues: Eating Out
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