Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 91): la voix et les verbes pronominal


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.

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.
Elle promène le chien. She’s taking the dog for a walk.

Je me lave les mains. I’m washing my hands.
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.


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