French Pronominal Verbs

les verbes pronominaux

French pronominal verbsOn of the more complicated aspects to learning French grammar is the pronominal verb. Also called reflexive verbs, these are verbs in which a pronominal pronoun reflects back upon the subject. Here are two examples of pronominal verbs.

je me laveje m'appelle
tu te lavestu t'appelles
il/elle/on se laveil/elle/on s'appelle
nous nous lavonsnous nous appelons
vous vous lavezvous vous appelez
ils/elles se laventils/elles s'appellent

For the above verbs the pronominal pronouns are written in bold as such: je me + verb, tu te + verb, il/elle/on se + verb, nous nous + verb, vous vous + verb and ils/elles se + verb.

The se before the infinitive changes and reflects back on the subject of the verb. Se, me, and te become s’, m’ and t’ before verbs that start with vowels.

In a negative sentence, wrap ne…pas around the pronomial pronoun and the verb. For example, ‘je me lave’ (I wash myself) becomes ‘je ne me lave pas‘.

reflexive pronominal verbs

Most pronominal verbs can also be non-pronominal verbs. This means that verbs can be both reflexive (se laver) and “just normal” (laver). When “just normal” the action of the verb is carried out on a subject. When reflexive the action of the verb is carried out back on the subject itself. Examples:

  • J’appelle mon ami. I call my friend.
    Je m’appelle David. My name is David.
  • Je lave la voiture. I wash the car.
    Je me lave tous les jours. I wash myself.
  • Je regarde le film. I watch the movie.
    Je me regarde dans la glace. I look at myself in the mirror.

Here’s a complete lesson reflexive verbs.

reciprocal pronominal verbs

In a reciprocal pronominal verb there’s interaction between two or multiple people. Examples:

  • Tu parles à tes amis? Do you talk to your friends?
    Oui, nous nous parlons souvent? Yes, we speak to each other often.
  • Tu écris à Marie? Do you write to Marie?
    Oui, on s’ecrit de temps en temps. Yes, we write to each other from time to time.

Here’s a complete lesson reciprocal pronominal verbs.

passive pronominal verbs

Quite often a se can be placed in front of a French verb to create a passive effect, meaning “is verb’ed”. Examples:

  • Ça se mange avec les mains. That’s eaten with the hands.
  • Ça ne se fait pas en France. That isn’t done in France.

Here’s a complete lesson on passive pronominal verbs.

subjective pronominal verbs

A certain subset of pronominal verbs are called subjective because there’s no particular rhyme or reason why the verbs take a pronominal pronoun. They just do. Examples:

  • s’attendre àJe m’attends à un miracle. I’m expecting a miracle.
  • s’en allerJe m’en vais. I’m leaving or I’m off.

Here’s a complete lesson on subjective pronominal verbs.

exclusively pronominal verbs

Some verbs appear only in a pronominal form. This means that the only form of the verbs that exists is with a se in front of the infinitive.

Se souvenir (to remember) is a good example. Souvenir does not exist on its own as a verb. You cannot say “Je souviens de mes vacances.” (I remember my vacation). You MUST say, “Je me souviens de mes vacances.”

Related lessons:
More resources for pronominal verbs:

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