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How to speak French

How to Learn French Reflexive Verbs

When you first begin to learn French, chances are you’ll focus on memorizing some grammar, learning the alphabet, and working on your pronunciation. However, in order to truly advance towards fluency, you’ll need to master French reflexive verbs. Although these often give new learners a little bit of a headache, they’re indispensable if you want to have any type of basic conversation in French.

They can be used to describe several parts of your day and are often the most essential part of language learning if you want to discuss topics that will advance your communication. To help, this article will provide you with more information on how to learn reflexive verbs.

What is a Reflexive Verb in French?

A French reflexive verb is a type of verb that’s used to describe situations where someone or something is doing an action to itself. They can be used to describe anything from the process of your morning routine to your sadness after watching a movie. Reflexive verbs in French are always paired with a reflexive pronoun, which is chosen based on who or what the subject is. Your options when using reflexive pronouns with different reflexive French verbs include:

EnglishReflexive PronounSubject for French Reflexive Verb
myselfme or m’je
yourselfte or t’tu
himselfse or s’il
herselfse or s’ella
oneself (singular) ourselves (plural) se or s’on
yourself (singular) yourselves (plural) vousvous
themselvesse or s’ils or elles

Again, when using these in a sentence, a reflexive pronoun is always used with a reflexive verb in French. Some examples of this include:

  • me – je me vois (I see myself)
  • nous - nous nous voyons (we see ourselves)
  • se – il/elle se voit (he/she sees himself/herself)

You will use the shortened version of a reflexive pronoun (m’, t’, s’) in a sentence if it comes before a vowel or an unaspirated ‘h’. If you need to express something in a negative form, you simply insert “ne” between the subject pronoun and reflexive pronoun.

Using any type of French verbs is an integral part of speaking like a native, but reflexive verbs are of the utmost importance. In fact, reflexive verbs in French are so common that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a few sentences into a conversation without either using them or hearing them. To help you get started on some basic understanding, consider the following list of common French reflexive verbs used in language. You’ll notice that many of these are French “er” verbs, which will make conjugation a little easier later on in your language lessons.

French Reflexive VerbEnglish Translation
s’adjoindreto take on
s’apprêterto get ready
s’approacher deto approach
s’asseoirto sit down
se baignerto bathe, swim
se coucherto go to bed
se dépêcherto hurry
se doucherto take a shower
s’effrayerto be frightened
s’endormirto fall asleep
s’énerverto get annoyed
se fâcherto get angry
se fatiguerto get tired
s’imaginerto imagine
s’intéresser àto be interested in
se leverto get up
se moucherto blow one’s nose
se précipitierto rush, quicken
se promenerto take a walk
se régalerto enjoy oneself, have a good meal
se regarderto look at oneself
se relaxerto relax
se reposerto rest
se réveillerto wake up
se soûlerto get drunk
se taireto be quiet

French Reflexive Verbs

How Do Reflexive Verbs Work in French?

Reflexive verbs in French are used to describe an action that is done to, or reflects back on the subject. This can be either literally or metaphorically, which is why they tend to be a bit more difficult for native English speakers to learn. One of the best ways to help you expedite your journey to fluency is to try not to compare French reflexive verbs to their English counterparts. Although the French alphabet is basically identical, word usage and sentence structure cannot be mirrored for direct translation. When you directly translate them, their meaning can get skewed or seem a bit unusual.

Instead, try to think of expressions you use with reflexive verbs in French as almost a type of pre-set phrase or chunk of language. This can help improve your memorization and lead to smoother conversations. Taking this approach can also strengthen your ability to combine reflexive verbs with French adjectives.

Different Types of Reflexive French Verbs

There are three distinct types of reflexive verbs in French that can be used in your communication. To help you practice with each, download Tandem today and match with a native French speaker. In the meantime, use the following information to help you distinguish between each reflexive verb type in French.

French Reflexive Verb Type 1: Actions Done to Yourself

These types of reflexive French verbs are used to describe any type of action that you might be doing to yourself (or the subject is doing to themselves). Reflexive pronouns need to be included each time, making the word for word translation a bit awkward in some phrases. For example:

  • vous vous lavez la tête — you wash your hair

However, if you were to translate this word for word it would actually be, “you wash yourselves the head.” Doesn’t make much sense when you do that, does it? Try to get used to thinking about it with a French mindset to make things easier.

French Reflexive Verb Type 2: Emotional Descriptions

The next type of reflexive verbs you’ll use in French are those that help portray emotions, or abstract actions. These don’t really reflect back on you in the same way as physical actions, but they do affect your emotional/mental state, so it makes sense. For example:

  • je ma fâche — I am becoming angry
  • nous nous amusons — we are having fun

French Reflexive Verb Type 3: Just Because

This type of reflexive verb is a little more random, as there’s not really a rhyme or reason to it aside from, that’s the way it is. They’re a little more complex, because the grammatical rules aren't set in stone, so don’t worry if you struggle with them at first. The best way to remember verbs that must be reflexive is to practice and memorize situations where you see reflexive verbs.

As you can see, some situations where you could use a French reflexive verb don’t even exist in English. As we mentioned before, try to focus on avoiding direct translations when you’re learning this beautiful language, as it can end up complicating the entire process! Instead, focus on practicing with a native language to get the feel of how conversations flow, which verbs are used in different situations, and how to improve your native accent.


How to Conjugate Reflexive Verbs in French

Reflexive French verb conjugation always needs to agree with the reflexive pronoun and the subject of each sentence. The verb conjugations follow the same rules for conjugating non-reflexive verbs depending on the tense, regularity, and any spelling or stem changes. In most instances, the reflexive pronoun generally precedes the reflexive verb.

Getting the hang of French reflexive verbs can be tricky. With Tandem, you can practice using them naturally by connecting with a native speaker from France or around the world! Using our unique community of language learners, we connect like-minded individuals who are looking to improve their fluency and make some new friends along the way.

Unlike other language learning apps, Tandem works to help our members foster a deeper understanding of language while improving fluency and building long-lasting friendships. With our personalized language learning experience, you can match with native speakers and continue perfecting your use of reflexive verbs in French. To join our community and work on your fluency, sign up for Tandem today.

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