Reflexive verbs in French

Reflexive verbs in the French language play a significant role in daily communication. They allow speakers to express actions that an individual performs upon themselves. These verbs can be a bit perplexing for learners, but they are a crucial part of mastering French grammar. In this article, we will look into the intricacies of reflexive verbs, their formation, and how they are used in sentences.


Definition and Formation

A reflexive verb is a verb where the subject and object are the same person, implying that the action of the verb is performed by the subject upon themselves. In French, reflexive verbs are formed by adding reflexive pronouns to the infinitive form of the verb. These pronouns vary depending on the subject and the tense of the verb. The most commonly used reflexive pronouns are “me,” “te,” “se,” “nous,” “vous,” “se,” which correspond to “myself,” “yourself,” “himself/herself/itself,” “ourselves,” “yourselves,” and “themselves,” respectively.


Usage of Reflexive Verbs

  1. Daily Routine: Reflexive verbs are often used to describe daily routines and personal hygiene. For instance, “Je me lave” means “I wash myself.”

  2. Emotions and States of Being: These verbs can also express emotions or states of being. For example, “Elle se sent heureuse” translates to “She feels happy.”

  3. Reciprocal Actions: In some cases, reflexive verbs indicate reciprocal actions between two or more people. “Ils se parlent” means “They are talking to each other.”

  4. Verbs with Reflexive Form: Some verbs in French are always reflexive, and they do not make sense without the reflexive pronoun. For example, “s’asseoir” means “to sit down,” and it must always be reflexive: “Je m’assieds.”

  5. Reflexive Verbs in Passé Composé: In the past tense, reflexive verbs are conjugated with the auxiliary verb être.” For example, “Elle s’est levée” means “She got up.”


Conjugation of Reflexive Verbs

Conjugating reflexive verbs can be a bit tricky. In the present tense, the reflexive pronoun precedes the verb, and the verb endings are adjusted accordingly. For example:

  • Je me lave (I wash myself)
  • Tu te laves (You wash yourself)
  • Il/elle/on se lave (He/she/one washes oneself)
  • Nous nous lavons (We wash ourselves)
  • Vous vous lavez (You wash yourselves)
  • Ils/elles se lavent (They wash themselves)

In the past tense, as mentioned earlier, reflexive verbs use the auxiliary verb “être,” and the past participle agrees with the subject in gender and number. For example:

  • Je me suis lavé (I washed myself, if the subject is masculine singular)
  • Elle s’est lavée (She washed herself, if the subject is feminine singular)
  • Nous nous sommes lavés (We washed ourselves, if the subject is masculine plural)
  • Elles se sont lavées (They washed themselves, if the subject is feminine plural)