Reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs are roughly the equivalent of English verbs involving -self or -selves, such as he hurt himself, they weighed themselves, we prepared ourselves etc. In these verbs, the subject and object actually represent the same thing or person.

In French, reflexive verbs have an extra object pronoun inserted between the subject and the verb. In this case, some grammars call this the reflexive pronoun. Depending on the subject (je, tu etc), the reflexive pronoun is as shown in the following table:

jemeje me lève
I get up
tutetu te lèves
you get up
seil se lève
he gets up
elle se lève
she gets up
on se lève
we get up
nousnousnous nous levons
we get up
vousvousvous vous levez
you (all) get up
seils/elles se lèvent
they get up

In this example, we use the verb lever, literally meaning to lift. So without the reflexive pronoun, for example, je lève would mean I lift. When used reflexively— i.e. when we insert the extra pronoun me, te etc— the verb literally means I lift myself, you lift yourself etc, and is the way that in French you usually say I get up etc.

The infinitive of reflexive verbs

The infinitive of reflexive verbs is formed with se plus the infinitive of the underlying verb. So for example, se lever is the form meaning "to get up" (literally "to lift oneself"). In many vocab books, this is how you'll find reflexive verbs listed. If the verb has se or s' before it, that tells you that you need to make its forms with me, te etc as in the example above.

me, te, se before a vowel

The pronouns that end in -e have shortened written forms before a vowel: m', t', s', and the final -e is never pronounced in these cases. For example, the verb s'appeler meaning to be called looks as follows:

je m'appelle Jean
I'm called Jean, my name's Jean
comment tu t'appelles?
what are you called?, what's your name?
elle s'appelle Julie
she's called Julie
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When to use reflexive verbs?

On the next page, we look in a bit more detail at when reflexive verbs are used in French. As we'll see, they actually have some uses beyond the meaning of -self mentioned here.

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.