Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 95): les verbes à sens réciproque et les verbes à sens idiomatique


French has three kinds of pronominal verbs. The most common are reflexive verbs, but there are also two lesser-known types: reciprocal verbs and idiomatic pronominal verbs.

French Reciprocal Verbs

While reflexive verbs tell you that one or more subjects are acting upon themselves, reciprocal verbs indicate that there are two or more subjects acting on one another. Here are the most common French reciprocal verbs:

s’adorer to adore (one another)
s’aimer to love
s’apercevoir to see
se comprendre to understand
se connaître to know
se détester to hate
se dire to tell
se disputer to argue
s’écrire to write to
s’embrasser to kiss
se parler to talk to
se promettre to promise
se quitter to leave
se regarder to look at
se rencontrer to meet
se sourire to smile at
se téléphoner to call
se voir to see

Nous nous adorons ! We adore one another!
Elles se voient le lundi. They see each other on Mondays.

Note that reciprocal verbs can also be used without the pronoun for a non-reciprocal meaning:

Nous nous comprenons. We understand each other.
Nous comprenons la question. We understand the question.

Ils s’aiment. They love each other.
Ils m’aiment. They love me.

French Idiomatic Pronominal Verbs

Idiomatic pronominal verbs are verbs that take on a different meaning when used with a reflexive pronoun. Here are the most common French idiomatic pronominal verbs (and their non-pronominal meanings):

s’en aller to go away   (to go)
s’amuser to have a good time   (to amuse)
s’appeler to be named   (to call)
s’approprier to appropriate   (to suit, adapt to)
s’arrêter to stop (oneself)   (to stop [s.o. or s.t. else])
s’attendre (à) to expect   (to wait for)
se demander to wonder   (to ask)
se débrouiller to manage, get by   (to disentangle)
se dépêcher to hurry   (to send quickly)
se diriger vers to head toward   (to run, be in charge of)
se douter to suspect   (to doubt)
s’éclipser to slip away/out   (to eclipse, overshadow)
s’éloigner to move (oneself) away   (to move s.t. else away)
s’endormir to fall asleep   (to put to sleep)
s’ennuyer to be bored   (to bother)
s’entendre to get along   (to hear)
se fâcher to get angry   (to make angry)
se figurer to imagine, picture   (to represent, to appear)
s’habituer à to get used to   (to get in the habit of)
s’inquiéter to worry   (to alarm)
s’installer to settle in (to a home)    (to install)
se mettre à to begin to   (to place, put)
se perdre to get lost   (to lose)
se plaindre to complain   (to pity, begrudge)
se rendre à to go to   (to return)
se rendre compte de to realize   (to account for)
se réunir to meet, get together   (to gather, collect)
se servir to use, make use of   (to serve)
se tromper to be mistaken   (to deceive)
se trouver to be located   (to find)

See how the meaning changes when idiomatic pronominal verbs are used with and without the reflexive pronoun:

Je m’appelle Sandrine. My name is Sandrine.
J’appelle Sandrine. I’m calling Sandrine.

Tu te trompes. You are mistaken.
Tu me trompes. You are deceiving me.

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