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French Grammar: Using Pronominal Verbs

written by: R. H. • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 4/5/2012

Prononimal verbs are the French verbs that require a pronoun in addition to the subject because they describe either what the subject is doing to himself or what two subjects are doing reciprocally to one another. Read on to learn about the most common French reflexive verbs and how to use them.

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    In French, certain verbs require a pronoun in addition to the subject; these verbs are called "pronominal verbs," or les verbes pronominaux.

    Pronominal verbs may express either of the following:

    1. What the subject is doing to himself--a reflexive function where the verb reflects the action back onto the subject, or
    2. What two subjects are doing to one another, or an action where two subjects are interacting--a reciprocal function where the verb expresses an action that is done "to one another."

    Whether the pronominal verb is reflexive or reciprocal in function, it is always accompanied by either a reflexive or reciprocal pronoun.

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    The Pronouns that Accompany French Pronominal Verbs

    The pronoun that must accompany the pronominal verb almost always appears before the verb. Here is a sample of the pronominal verb construction, using the verb se lever (to get up):

    Singular

    je me lève - I get (myself) up

    tu te lèves - You (familiar) get (yourself) up

    il/elle/on se lève - He/she/one gets (himself/herself/oneself) up

    Plural

    nous nous levons - They get (themselves) up

    vous vous levez - You get (yourselves) up

    ils/elles se lèvent - They (m/f) get (themselves) up

    At the bottom of this article is a link to Download & Print a French Pronominal Verb Vocabulary List

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    Common French Pronominal Verbs

    French pronominal verbs are truly everyday verbs; they are verbs that describe much of a person's daily routine, and verbs that you will use constantly if you are immersed in a French language environment. Therefore, it is vital to learn the most common French pronominal verbs and be prepared to use them. Here is a list of some of the most important pronominal verbs and their English equivalents:

    se réveiller - to wake up

    se lever - to get up

    se laver - to wash (oneself)

    se promener - to go walking

    s'habiller* - to dress (oneself)

    se coucher - to lie down

    se doucher - to bathe (oneself)

    se maquiller - to put makeup on (oneself)

    se préparer - to get (oneself) ready

    se reposer - to rest/relax

    se dépêcher - to hurry

    In cases where the pronoun se is followed by a verb beginning with h or a vowel, elision occurs to avoid having a vowel on another vowel sound: thus for the verb s'habiller, for example, you will have: m'habille, t'habilles, s'habille ... s'habillent.

    Download & Print French Pronominal Verb Vocabulary List