A Guide to French Reflexive Pronouns

Grammaire: Pronoms Réfléchis

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Reflexive pronouns are a special kind of French pronoun which can only be used with pronominal verbs. These verbs 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. These are the French reflexive pronouns:
   me / m'        me, myself
   te / t' / toi   you, yourself
   se / s'          him(self), her(self), it(self), them(selves)
   nous           us, ourselves
   vous           you, yourself, yourselves

Me, te, and se change to m', t', and s', respectively, in front of a vowel or mute H. Te changes to toi in the imperative.

Like object pronouns, reflexive pronouns are placed directly in front of the verb in nearly all tenses and moods:*

  • Nous nous parlons. We're talking to each other.
  • Ils ne s'habillent pas. They aren't getting dressed.

*In the imperative, the reflexive pronoun is attached to the end of the verb with a hyphen.

  • Lève-toi ! Get up!
  • Aidons-nous. Let's help each other

Reflexive pronouns always have to agree with their subjects, in all tenses and moods — including the infinitive and the present participle.

  • Je me lèverai.  I will get up.
  • Nous nous sommes couchés. We went to bed.
  • Vas-tu te raser ? Are you going to shave?
  • En me levant, j'ai vu... While getting up, I saw...

Be careful not to mix up the third person singular reflexive pronoun se with the direct object le.

Se - French Reflexive Pronoun

Se, the third person singular and plural reflexive pronoun, is one of the most often misused French pronouns. It can only be used in two kinds of constructions:

1. With a pronominal verb:

  • Elle se lave. She's washing up (she's washing herself).
  • Ils se sont habillés. They got dressed (they dressed themselves).
  • Elles se parlent. They're talking to each other.

2. In a passive impersonal construction:

  • Cela ne se dit pas. That isn't said.
  • L'alcool ne se vend pas ici. Alcohol isn't sold here.

French learners sometimes get confused about whether to use se or the direct object le. They are not interchangeable - compare the following:

  • Elle se rase. - She's shaving (herself).
  • Se is the reflexive pronoun
  • Elle le rase. - She's shaving it (e.g., the cat).
  • Le is the direct object
  • Il se lave. - He's washing (himself).
  • Se is the reflexive pronoun
  • Il le lave. - He's washing it (e.g., the dog or the knife).
  • Le is the direct object
  • Se lave-t-il le visage ? - Oui, il se le lave. - Is he washing his face? Yes, he's washing it.
  • Se and le work together

Note that se may be the direct or indirect object of a French sentence.

  • Ils se voient. - They see each other.
  • Se means "each other" and is a direct object.
  • Il se lave le visage. - He's washing his face. (Literally, "He's washing the face of himself")
  • Se means "of himself" and is an indirect object. ( Visage is the direct object)
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Team, ThoughtCo. "A Guide to French Reflexive Pronouns." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/french-reflexive-pronouns-1368936. Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). A Guide to French Reflexive Pronouns. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-reflexive-pronouns-1368936 Team, ThoughtCo. "A Guide to French Reflexive Pronouns." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-reflexive-pronouns-1368936 (accessed March 31, 2023).