What is a French reflexive verb? What about pronominal and reciprocal verbs? Explanations + list of 100 French “se” verbs + exercises + fun video practice.
The French reflexive verbs – also called reflexive or reciprocal verbs – in common words the French “se” verbs are very common in French, especially for verbs of toiletry: se laver (to wash), se coiffer (to do one’s hair), se maquiller (to apply one’s makeup), se raser (to shave)…
Yet, French reflexive verbs are usually confusing for students of French: what is this “nous nous”, “vous vous” about?
Let’s take a closer look.
1 – What is a French Reflexive Verb ?
French reflexive verbs offer a twist on a “base verb”. So the first thing to do is to memorize the meaning of the “base verb”.
Let’s look at an example:
A – French Base Verb Example
Let’s take “raser” as our base verb – to shave another person (someone else, not yourself)
Autrefois, le barbier rasait la barbe de mon grand-père.
In the past, the barber shaved my grand-father’s beard.
B – French Reflexive Verb Example
The corresponding reflexive verb is “se raser” – to shave yourself
Mon oncle se rase tous les matins.
My uncle shaves every morning.
The pronoun “se” is used before the verb to show that my uncle doesn’t shave someone else, or have someone shave him: he shaves himself.
2 – French Reflexive Verb Conjugation
Reflexive verbs have a special reflexive pronoun before the verb: “me, te, se, nous, vous, se” (in addition to the French subject pronoun “je, tu, il, elle, on, nous, vous, ils, elles”).
The full conjugation of the pronominal verb in the present tense is:
- Je me rase,
- Tu te rases,
- Il, elle, on se rase,
- Nous nous rasons,
- Vous vous rasez,
- Ils, elles se rasent.
The reflexive pronouns glide a lot in spoken modern French with the subject pronoun and the verb, so you need to learn their modern glided pronunciation.
French reflexive verbs are explained in my Beginner’s French audiobook learning method.
3 – French Reflexive Verbs List
The reflexive form is very common in French, and I can’t possibly list all the French reflexive verbs here.
However, if you feel I missed a very common one (or a few!) please add them to the comment with the English translation and I’ll add it to the list.
- s’abonner à = to subscribe to
- s’adapter à = to adapt to
- s’adresser à = to talk to someone
- s’agenouiller = to get on one’s knees
- s’allonger = to lie down
- s’appeler = to be named
- s’approcher de qq’un = to get closer to someone
- s’appuyer sur/contre/à = to lean against
- s’asseoir = to sit down
- s’attendre à = to expect something
- s’avancer = to get closer
- se baigner = to bathe, swim
- se baisser = to lower oneself
- se balader = to take a stroll
- se brosser (les cheveux, les dents…) = to brush (one’s hair, teeth…)
- se brûler = to burn oneself
- se cacher = to hide
- se calmer = to calm down
- se changer = to change outfit
- se cogner (la tête) = to bang one’s head
- se coincer = to get stuck
- se casser (la jambe) = to break (one’s leg)
- se coiffer (les cheveux) = to fix one’s hair
- se coucher = to go to bed
- se couper (le doigt) = to cut oneself on the finger
- se décider à = to make the decision to
- se défendre contre = to defend (against an attack)
- se déguiser = to put on a costume
- se déshabiller = to get undressed
- se distraire = to amuse oneself
- se divertir = to amuse oneself
- se documenter = to get documentation
- se doucher = to take a shower
- s’effondrer = to collapse
- s’énerver = to get angry
- s’ennuyer = to be bored
- s’entraîner = to train
- s’enrhumer = to be getting a cold
- s’essuyer = to dry oneself
- s’étendre = to lie down / to last a period of time
- s’évader = to escape
- s’évanouir = to faint
- s’excuser = to apologize
- s’exercer = to train
- s’expliquer = to explain oneself
- se fâcher = to get angry
- se fatiguer = to get tired
- se fiancer = to get engaged
- se fouler (la cheville) = to twist (one’s ankle)
- se fracturer (le bras) = to break (one’s arm)
- se frotter = to brush against
- se garer = to park
- se gratter = to scratch an itch
- se goinfrer = to eat like a pig
- s’habiller = to get dressed
- s’habituer à = to get accustomed to
- s’impatienter = to get impatient
- s’infecter = to get infected
- s’intéresser à = to be interested in
- se lamenter = to lament
- se laver (les mains, la figure…) = to wash (one’s hands, face…)
- se lever = to get up
- se limiter à = to limit oneself to
- se marier (avec) = to get married with someone
- se maquiller = to put on make-up
- se mettre (à) = to start doing something
- se moquer (de) = to make fun of
- se moucher = to blow one’s nose
- se mouiller = to get wet
- se multiplier = to multiply
- se mutiner = to declare mutiny
- se négliger = to neglect oneself
- se nourrir = to feed oneself
- se noyer = to drown
- s’opposer à = to oppose
- s’organiser = to get organized
- se passionner pour = to get passionate about
- se pencher = to lean down
- se peigner (les cheveux) = to comb one’s hair
- se pendre = to hang oneself
- se plaindre = to complain
- se pousser = to get out of the way
- se précipiter = to hurry towards
- se préparer = to get ready
- se promener = to take a stroll
- se protéger de = to protect oneself against
- se qualifier = to get qualified
- se raser (la barbe) = to shave
- se rasseoir = to go back to one’s seat
- se réchauffer = to get warmer
- se réfugier = to find asylum or protection somewhere
- se regarder = to look at oneself
- se renseigner = to get info
- se reposer = to rest
- se retourner = to turn around/back
- se réveiller = to wake up
- se ronger (les ongles) = to bite one’s nails
- se salir = to get dirty
- se sauver = to escape
- se séparer = to separate from
- se servir de = to use
- se suicider = to commit suicide
- se taire = to be silent
- se teindre (les cheveux) = to color (one’s hair)
- se tourner vers = to turn towards
- se transformer = to transform
- se tromper = to make a mistake
- se tuer = to kill oneself, to die (by accident)
- se vanter = to brag
- se venger de = to get revenge against
- se vexer = to get one’s feeling hurt
French Reflexive Verbs Exercises
Now we’re going to train on these French reflexive verbs.
1. (se coucher) Marie _____________ à dix heures et demie.
Marie se couche à dix heures et demi.
Marie goes to bed at ten-thirty.
2. (s’endormir) Nous _____________ vite après une soirée.
Nous nous endormons vite après une soirée.
We go to sleep fast after a party.
3. (s’habiller) Comment vous _____________ pour aller au restaurant?
Comment vous habillez-vous pour aller au restaurant?
How do you dress to go out to a restaurant?
4. (se dépêcher) Marc _____________ pour prendre le train.
Marc se dépêche pour prendre le train.
Marc hurries to catch (take) the train.
5. (s’ennuyer) Les enfants ne _____________ jamais.
Les enfants ne s’ennuient jamais.
The children never get bored.
6. (se baigner) Ils _____________ à la piscine ?
Ils se baignent à la piscine ?
They are swimming at the pool?
7. (s’habiller) Les jeunes _____________ d’une manière décontractée.
Les jeunes s’habillent d’une manière décontractée.
Young people dress in a relaxed manner.
8. (se fâcher) Est-ce que tu _____________ souvent avec Paul?
Est-ce que tu te fâches souvent avec Paul?
Do you get mad at Paul often?
10. (se disputer) Les frères, ils ne ____________ pas.
Les frères, ils ne se disputent pas.
The brothers don’t quarrel.
11. (se retrouver) Mes amis et moi, on _____________ souvent au cinéma.
Mes amies et moi, on se retrouve souvent au cinéma.
My friends and I often meet at the cinema.
12. (s’asseoir) Avant le dîner, tout le monde _____________ à table.
Avant le diner, tout le monde s’assied à table.
Before dinner everyone sits (down) at the table.
13. (s’amuser) Je _____________ beaucoup à des soirées.
Je m’amuse beaucoup à des soirées.
I really enjoy parties.
14. (se sécher) Vous _____________ les cheveux.
Vous vous séchez les cheveux.
You dry your hair.
15. (s’être fracturé) Je _____________ le poignet gauche.
Je me suis fracturé le poignet gauche.
I fractured my left wrist.
16. (s’approcher) L’autobus _____________ de l’immeuble.
L’autobus s’approche de l’immeuble.
The bus approaches the building.
17. (se salir) La nappe _____________ vite.
La nappe se salit vite.
The table-cloth gets dirty quickly.
18. (se décider à) Nous ____________ aller à la plage?
Nous nous décidons à aller à la plage.
We decide (have decided) to go to the beach.
4 – Reflexive, Pronominal, Reciprocal = What’s the Difference?
Let’s look at some terms. They look scary but they’re not actually very difficult because they are quite logical:
A – What is a Base Verb?
“Raser” is the base verb and “se raser” is the pronominal form of it.
B – What is a French Pronominal Verb?
“Pronominal” is an adjective, it means “having a pronoun”. As we have just seen, pronominal verbs have a special pronoun before the verb: “me, te, se, nous, vous, se” (in addition to the French subject pronoun “je, tu, il, elle, on, nous, vous, ils, elles”).
Some verbs can only be conjugated in a pronominal form (eg “s’enfuir” to flee) but most verbs have a base verb.
C – What is a French Reflexive Verb?
“Reflexive” is an adjective, it means “reflecting”. It shows that the action is carried out on the person who is doing the action.
“Reflexive verb” is an alternative name for “pronominal verbs” like “se raser”. It’s very common nowadays to use “reflexive” instead of “pronominal”
D – What is a French Reciprocal Verb?
“Reciprocal” is an adjective, it means “done by both sides to each other” or “felt by both sides about each other”.
A “Reciprocal verb” is a sort of pronominal verb when the verb uses a reflexive pronoun to show the action is reciprocal, such as with the verb “s’aimer”.
Ils s’aiment depuis dix ans
They have been in love (“they have loved each other”) for 10 years.
So there is a nuance here…
Let’s take the verb “se réveiller” which means to wake up.
If you say “nous nous réveillons à huit heures”, there could be two translations:
- Each one of us wakes up at 8AM (reflexive action – we each do it to oneself)
- We wake each other up at 8AM (reciprocal action – we do it to each other)
How can you tell? Usually from the context of the sentence / story.
5 – Nous Nous, Vous Vous ???
These “nous nous”, “vous vous” are very weird for a French student, but they sound perfectly fine for a French native.
In my French Verb Drill audiobook, I went over the conjugations of s’asseoir – drilling your French verbs out of order and with audio is the best way to memorize them!
In “nous nous” the first pronoun is a subject pronoun. The first “nous” replaces a subject.
The second “nous” is the reflexive pronoun.
So, if in your sentence you use nouns for the subject, you don’t necessarily have to use the first pronoun.
- Philippe et moi, nous nous rasons.
Here, the first “nous” is redundant. It’s supposed to replace “Philippe et moi”, but since you say “Philippe et moi” in this sentence, you don’t need a subject pronoun.
We do use it this way for emphasis, and also just because we are so accustomed to the “nous nous”, “vous vous”, that it’s kind of easier for us to say it this way!
So I would say it’s quite common to use both a noun subject AND a subject pronoun AND a reflexive pronoun for the “nous” and “vous” forms of French reflexive verbs.
However, you could also say:
- Philippe et moi nous rasons.
That would be more upscale French actually. You’re more likely to find this in writing.
In spoken French, since we like to use “on” instead of nous, you’ll also hear:
- Philippe et moi, on se rase.
All these sentences mean the same thing: Philippe and I, we shave.
It could also mean Philippe and I shave each other… but it’s a bit less likely!
6 – Tips About French Pronominal Verbs
A. Understanding the meaning of the “base verb”
The meaning of most pronominal verbs has some connection with the meaning of the base verb, so when you’ve learnt the base verb, automatically you’ll have some idea what the corresponding pronominal verb means.
Unfortunately, there is a fairly small number of “idiomatic pronominal verbs” (about 40 common ones), for which the meaning of the pronominal verbs doesn’t have a clear connection with the meaning of the base verb.
This is one reason why French pronominal verbs are sometimes confusing for English speakers.
For example, “emporter” means “to take something away; to take something with you” but the corresponding pronominal verb “s’emporter” means “to lose one’s temper, to become angry”.
- Il s’emporte souvent – he often loses his temper (But even then, there might be some vague connection with the English expression “to get carried away”?)
B. Pronominal verbs are much more common in French than they are in English
Another reason why these French verbs can be confusing for English speakers is because their counterpart in English may not be reflexive or reciprocal.
For example, none of the examples above (se raser, s’aimer, s’emporter) is reflexive or reciprocal in English.
In English, we simply say: “my uncle shaves every morning”, “they have been in love for ten years”, “he often loses his temper”.
C. Conjugation with “être” in compound tenses
In compound tenses (e.g. the passé composé):
- all pronominal verbs use the auxiliary verb être
- you will need to make the past participle of the pronominal verb agree with the subject of the verb in gender and in number, unless it’s followed by a direct object.
1 – Camille s’est coiffée (Camille combed herself) – this construction is very common.
2 – Camille s’est coiffé les cheveux (Camille combed her hair) – lots of French people don’t know that rule…
- My last point is complicated, I’m so sorry… When the reflexive pronoun is also an indirect object, there is no agreement.
Example: we say “parler à quelqu’un” (to talk TO someone).
So parler is followed by an indirect object.
When you say: ils se sont parlé, the “se” is a reflexive pronoun and an indirect object – therefore, no agreement, no S at parler… I bet the vast majority of French people would make that mistake though! (Thank you to Siddharta for suggesting this rule in Disqus)
7 – How to memorize French reflexive verbs?
Let’s take the example of “se moquer”. The connection with “to mock” is not hard, it’s what we call “a cognate”, a word that is the same between French and English.
But why should it be reflexive? You don’t mock yourself someone…
Furthermore, how often to you use “to mock” in English?
Most of the time, you’d say “to make fun of someone, or to pick on someone”… You may then have a hard time remembering the French translation is “se moquer de quelqu’un”…
So cognates are a double edge “friend” – you think you already know the word, and it’s easy to remember its meaning when you read it, but because you think you know it, you don’t spend time learning it, and when you need to use it yourself you often forget “it’s kind of the same as in English”… except that it’s not exactly the same… So at the end, you should spend more time learning cognates, not less!
My tip – when memorising a pronominal verb, try to use it in a sentence, and memorize that sentence. It will be easier to remember that this particular verb is used in a reflexive way in French.
Check out my French audiobook method to learn French: structured around an ongoing novel, you’ll learn French grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and expressions in context, and remember everything longer.
8 – Fun French Reflexive Verb Practice
Many toiletry related verbs in French are reflexive. So here is my short video – featuring the Sims – to learn reflexive verbs in context as well as bathroom vocabulary.
French Transcript and English Translation of the Video
Notre Sim dort.
Our Sim is sleeping.
Maintenant, elle se réveille, elle se lève, et elle va dans la salle de bains.
Now she wakes up, she gets up and she goes into the bathroom.
Elle va aux toilettes, elle fait pipi et puis elle s’essuie et elle tire la chasse.
She uses the bathroom, she pees, then she wipes herself and flushes.
Elle se lave les mains avec du savon liquide, et puis elle va prendre une douche.
She washes her hands with liquid soap, then she takes a shower.
Elle se déshabille et puis elle rentre dans sa douche et elle se lave avec du gel pour la douche : elle se frotte bien.
She gets undressed and then enters her shower and washes with shower gel: she scrubs herself energetically.
Et puis elle se lave les cheveux avec du shampoing.
And then, she washes her hair with shampoo.
Peut être qu’elle se rase, on sait pas !
Maybe she shaves, we don’t know!
Elle se rince les cheveux et pendant tout le temps de sa douche, elle chante !
She rinses her hair and during all the time of her shower, she sings!
Avec les Sims, c’est magique. Elle ne s’essuie pas, elle ne s’habille même pas ! Un tour et elle est prête !
With the Sims, it’s magical. She doesn’t dry herself, she doesn’t even get dressed! A spin and she is ready!
Elle se lave les dents avec une brosse à dent et du dentifrice.
She brushes her teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Elle se regarde dans le miroir. Normalement, elle devrait se coiffer les cheveux, se sécher les cheveux et puis se mettre de la crème, et se maquiller: se faire les yeux, et se mettre du brillant à lèvre.
She looks at herself in a mirror. In the normal life, she should comb her hair, dry her hair and moisturize her skin, and apply make-up: do her eyes and put some gloss.
Mais encore une fois, un Sim n’a pas besoin de faire tout ça.
But once more, a Sim doesn’t need to do all that.
Maintenant, elle va dans sa chambre, et elle va se changer : peut être qu’elle va se mettre en tenue de sport, ou bien tout simplement en jean et en T-shirt, ou encore elle peut se mettre une robe.
Now, she goes to her room and changes: maybe she’ll put a sports outfit on, or just a jean and T-shirt, or else she can wear a dress.
If you enjoyed this video, please press like, and share it with your students and teachers – I think this makes a fun video to use in the classroom, don’t you ? Let me know what you think – I read all the comments and your feedback is very important to me.
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9 – Final Notes About French Reflexive Verbs
B. Avoiding the passive voice
We have seen that pronominal verbs are used much more in French than they are in English.
However, there is an unexpected bonus: quite a few of them can be used to avoid “the passive voice” in French.
An example of the “passive voice”: white wine is drunk by Richard. Compare this with the “active voice”: Richard drinks white wine.
French people do not like the passive voice and have a number of ways of avoiding it. If you can avoid the passive voice with a pronominal verb in the way that the French do themselves, your teachers (and examiners!) should be mightily impressed.
For example, you could use it like this:
le vin blanc se boit froid – white wine is best drunk cold.
B – How do you Call Reflexive Verbs and Pronominal Verbs in French
In French, we call them
- “un verbe pronominal / des verbes pronominaux”
- ou “un verbe réfléchi”.
The pronouns are called “des pronoms réfléchis”.
C. In conclusion
The key to mastering French reflexive verbs is to practice, but practice with audio!
The reflexive pronouns glide a lot in spoken modern French with the subject pronoun and the verb, so you need to learn their modern glided pronunciation. French reflexive verbs are explained in my Beginner’s French audiobook learning method.
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