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French grammar - Reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs

Reflexive (or prenominal) verbs are verbs that incorporate a reflexive pronoun and imply that the subject of the verb is performing that action on itself.

The dictionary form of reflexive verbs use the se reflexive pronoun. But in general use the pronoun that matches the subject should be substituted.

Some common reflexive (-ER) verbs are:

se lever - 'to wash oneself' (lever means 'to wash')

se coucher - 'to go to bed' (coucher means 'to lay down')

se cacher - 'to hide (oneself)' (cacher means 'to hide')

se brûler - 'to burn oneself' (brûler means 'to burn')

se baigner - 'to bathe oneself', to swim (baigner means 'to bathe')

s'excuser - 'to apologize' or 'to excuse oneself' (excuser means 'to excuse' or 'to forgive')

se fâcher - 'to be angry' or 'to be mad'

se fatiguer - 'to get tired'

s'habiller - 'to get dressed' or 'to dress up' (habiller means 'to dress' or 'to clothe')

se préparer - 'to get prepared' or 'to prepare oneself' (préparer means 'to prepare')

se tromper - 'to make a mistake' or 'to be wrong' (tromper means 'to trick' or 'to deceive')

s'appeler - 'to call oneself' or 'to be called' (appeler means 'to call')

-- In French 'my name is X' is expressed as 'I call myself X' (je m'appelle X)

Note that with the negative ne..pas, the reflexive pronoun stays attached to the verb.

Elle se lave dans le bain.
She washes (herself) in the bath.

bain (m) means 'bath'

Elle lave le chien.
She washes the dog.

Not reflexive

Il se couche très tard.
He goes to bed very late.
Il couche les enfants pour la nuit.
He puts the children to bed for the night.

Not reflexive

pour means 'for'

Nous nous cachons dans l'armoire.
We are hiding in the wardrobe.
Nous cachons les cadeaux.
We are hiding the gifts.

cadeau (m) means 'gift' or 'present'

Souvent, je me brûle sur la cuisinière.
Often I burn myself on the stove.

cuisinière (f) means 'stove' or 'cooker'

Je brûle les ordures.
I burn garbage.

Not reflexive

ordures (pl.m) means 'garbage' or 'rubbish'

Est-ce que vous vous baignez à la plage ?
Do you (formal) swim at the beach?
Vous ne vous baignez pas à la plage ?
Don't you (formal) swim at the beach?

Note that with the negative ne..pas the reflexive pronoun stays attached to the verb

Baignez-vous le bébé chaque soir ?
Do you (formal) bathe the baby every evening?

Not reflexive

bébé (m) means 'baby'

Ils sont en retard - ils s'excusent.
They are late - they apologize.
Ils vous excusent d'être en retard.
They excuse you (formal) for being late.

Not reflexive

Pourquoi tu te fâches contre ta fille ?
Why are you (familiar) mad at your daughter?

In French 'one gets angry against someone' (on se fâche contre quelqu'un)

contre means 'against'

Les élèves fatiguent le professeur avec leurs interminables questions.
The students tire the teacher with their endless questions.

Not reflexive

interminable means 'endless' or 'never-ending' or 'interminable'

Les étudiants se fatiguent après une longue journée.
Students get tired after a long day.

journée (f) means 'day'

Ils s'habillent pour la soirée déguisée.
They dress up for the fancy dress party.

la soirée déguisée means 'fancy dress party'

Ils habillent bien leurs enfants pour le froid.
They dress their children well for the cold.

Not reflexive

Elles ne se préparent pas pour l'examen.
They are not preparing themselves for the exam.

In the negative se & préparent stay together

examen (m) means 'exam' or 'test'

Elles préparent tout pour la fête d'anniversaire.
They (females) are preparing everything for the birthday party.

Not reflexive

anniversaire (m) means 'birthday'

Le voleur trompe le vieil homme.
The thief tricks the old man.

voleur (m) means 'thief'

Le vieil homme se trompe sur le voleur.
The old man is mistaken about the thief.

Not reflexive

In French 'one is mistaken on something or someone' (on se trompe sur quelque chose ou sur quelqu'un)

La dame appelle ses enfants pour le dîner.
The lady is calling her children for dinner.

Not reflexive

Je m'appelle Jean_Luc.
My name is Jean-Luc.
La dame s'appelle madame Dupont.
The lady is called Madame Dupont. *OR* The lady's name is Madame Duport.

In French 'her name is X' is expressed as 'she calls herself X' (elle s'appelle X)

Comment s'appelle-t-elle ?
What is her name?

Literally 'How does she call herself?'

comment means 'how'

Elle s'appelle Jeanne d'Arc.
Her name is Joan of Arc.

Literally 'She calls herself Joan of Arc'

Comment vous appelez-vous ?
What is your (formal) name?

The first vous is the reflexive pronoun

Literally 'How do you call youself?'