French Grammar: Using Pronominal Verbs
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:
- What the subject is doing to himself--a reflexive function where the verb reflects the action back onto the subject, or
- 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.
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):
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
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
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.