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Se - French Reflexive Pronoun

Pronom réfléchi

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Se, the third person singular and plural reflexive pronoun, is one of the most often misused French pronouns. It can only be used in two kinds of constructions:

1. With a pronominal verb:

   Elle se lave.
   She's washing up (she's washing herself).

   Ils se sont habillés.
   They got dressed (they dressed themselves).

   Elles se parlent.
   They're talking to each other.

2. In a passive impersonal construction:

   Cela ne se dit pas.
   That isn't said.

   L'alcool ne se vend pas ici.
   Alcohol isn't sold here.


French learners sometimes get confused about whether to use se or the direct object le. They are not interchangeable - compare the following:

   Elle se rase. - She's shaving (herself).
    = Se is the reflexive pronoun

   Elle le rase. - She's shaving it (e.g., the cat).
    = Le is the direct object


   Il se lave. - He's washing (himself).
    = Se is the reflexive pronoun

   Il le lave. - He's washing it (e.g., the dog or the knife).
    = Le is the direct object

   Se lave-t-il le visage ? - Oui, il se le lave. - Is he washing his face? Yes, he's washing it.
    = Se and le work together


Note that se may be the direct or indirect object of a French sentence.

   Ils se voient. - They see each other.
    = Se means "each other" and is a direct object.

   Il se lave le visage. - He's washing his face. (Literally, "He's washing the face of himself")
    = Se means "of himself" and is an indirect object. (Visage is the direct object)


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