French Grammar: Reflexive Verbs


French Grammar: Reflexive Verbs
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French Grammar: Reflexive Verbs
la grammaire française: les verbes réfléchis

Reflexive verbs are used when the subject and object of a verb (action) are the same. The action “reflects back” onto the subject!


Reflexive verbs are used when the subject and object of a verb (action) are the same. The action “reflects back” onto the subject!

In French, there are”normal” verbs and reflexive verbs. A reflexive verb is identified by the reflexive pronoun SE that precedes it in its infinitive form (SE laver, SE préparer, etc.).  When conjugated, the endings of reflexive verbs follow the same pattern as standard ER, IR, and RE verbs.

The SE part of reflexive verbs means “to oneself”. We use reflexive verbs in English, too (for example: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself!”).  But there are many more reflexive verbs in French.

laver : to wash

Je lave le chien.
I wash the dog.

In the above example, WASH is the verb (action).  Note that the subject (I) and the object/recipient (DOG) of this verb are different.

se laver : to wash oneself

Je me lave.
I wash myself.

In this second example, WASH is still the verb (action).  But here, the subject (I)of the action and the object/recipient of the action are one in the same.  Note that the SE becomes ME in order to indicate that the subject (I), and the action (WASH), is being done to myself (ME).

Here are some common reflexive verbs, most of which have to do with one’s daily routine. Note how they are all actions that one does to “oneself”. The subject is the originator AND the recipient of the action! (Also note the non-reflexives, here for comparison!)

s’amuser : to have fun; to enjoy oneself; to have a good time
amuser : to entertain; to amuse

s’appeler : to be called
appeler : to call

se baigner : to bathe oneself
baigner : to bathe

se brosser : to brush oneself
brosser : to brush

se coucher : to go to bed
coucher : to sleep; to spend the night

se dépêcher : to hurry
dépêcher : to dispatch

se déshabiller : to get undressed
déshabiller : to undress (someone/something else)

se doucher : to shower oneself; to get showered
doucher: to sprinkle; to shower (someone/something else)

s’ennuyer : to get bored
ennuyer : to bore; to annoy

s’habiller: to get dressed
habiller : to dress (someone/something else)

se laver : to wash oneself; to get washed
laver : to wash

se lever : to get up; to rise
lever : to raise; to lift

se maquiller : to put on makeup
maquiller : to fake; to doctor

se peigner : to comb one’s hair
peigner : to comb out

se préparer : to prepare oneself
préparer : to prepare

se promener : to take a walk; to go for a walk
promener : to take for a walk

se rappeler : to remember
rappeler : to call back

se raser : to shave oneself
raser : to demolish

se réveiller : to wake up
réveiller : to wake (someone/something else)

se sentir (bien, mal) : to feel (well, badly) (irregular verb – click link to see conjugations)
sentir : to smell (irregular verb – click link to see conjugations)

What about when someone else, or a group of people, are doing an action to themselves? We use a group of REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS in order to identify “who” is doing “what” to “themselves”.

je  –> ME : to myself
tu –>  TE : to yourself
il/elle/on –>  SE : to himself/herself/oneself
nous –>  NOUS : to ourselves
vous –>  VOUS : to yourselves (familiar)
ils/elles –>  SE : to themselves

Note that ME, TE, and SE become M’, T’, and S’ in front of a verb that begins with a vowel or a silent ‘h’.

In affirmative sentences, the reflexive pronoun precedes the conjugated verb.

Je m’appelle Hélène.
I call myself Hélène.
(My name is Hélène.)

Tu te maquilles tous les jours.
You (informal) put on make-up every day.

Il se rase devant le miroir.
He shaves (himself) in front of the mirror.

Nous nous ennuyons en classe.
We get bored in class.

Vous vous promenez dans le parc.
You all take a walk in the park.

Elles se couchent à minuit.
They (feminine) go to bed at midnight.

Negative, interrogative, and negative interrogative sentences that include reflexive verbs follow the same rules as “normal” (that is, non-reflexive) verbs. In these types of sentences also, the reflexive pronoun precedes the conjugated verb.

Je ne m’appelle pas Pauline.
I do not call myself Pauline.
(My name is not Pauline.)

Est-ce que tu te maquilles tous les jours?
Do you (informal) put on make-up every day?

Il ne se rase pas devant le miroir?
Doesn’t he shave (himself) in front of the mirror?

Nous ne nous ennuyons pas en classe.
We do not get bored in class.

Vous ne vous promenez pas dans le parc?
Aren’t you all taking a walk in the park?

À quelle heure est-ce qu’elles  se couchent?
At what time do they (feminine) go to bed?


Comment t’appelles-tu?
How do you (informal) call yourself?
(What is your name?)

Je m’appelle Marie.
I call myself Marie.
(My name is Marie.)

À quelle heure est-ce que vous vous réveillez?
At what time do you (formal) wake (yourself) up?

Je me réveille à sept heures du matin.
I wake (myself) up at seven in the morning.

Ils se douchent le matin?
Do they shower (themselves) in the morning?

Non, ils se douchent le soir.
No, they shower (themselves) at night.

Combien de temps est-ce qu’on prend pour se maquiller?
How much time does it take to put makeup on (oneself)?

Elle se maquille très vite.
She puts on her makeup quickly.

Il ne se rase jamais pendant la semaine.
He never shaves (himself) during the week.

Comment vous sentez-vous?
How are you (formal) feeling?

Je me sens bien, merci.
I feel fine, thank you.