French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Pronominal Verbs (e.g.: je me couche)

An Overview of Pronominal Verbs

Pronominal verbs have a pronoun as part of the infinitive, e.g.: je me réveille, il se couche. Some verbs exist only as pronominal (e.g.: se dépêcher, se souvenir) while others also have a non-pronominal usage (e.g.: se lever/lever). When using pronominal verbs, the pronominal element must correspond to the subject (e.g.: je me, tu te, etc.). This is illustrated in the following table, using the verb se promener ("to walk about" or "stroll"):

Present tense Translation
je me promène
"I walk"
tu te promènes
"you walk"
il,elle, on se promène
"he, she, one walks"
nous nous promenons
"we walk"
vous vous promenez
"you walk"
ils/elles se promènent
"they walk"

Pronominal Verbs with Past Tense

When using a pronominal verb in the past, use the auxiliary être, e.g.:

  • Je me suis levé.
  • Elle s'est réveillée.

Agreement with Past Tense Pronominal Verbs

As with other verbs that form their passé composé with être, pronominal verbs show agreement between the subject and the past participle when possible, e.g.:

  • Elle s'est réveillée.
  • Ils se sont promenés.

The main exception to this rule is when a direct object follows, in which case agreement is not made (e.g.: Elle s'est lavé les mains).

Note also that if the pronom corresponds to an indirect objet, there is no agreement; agreement does take place witha direct object, par ex.:

  • Elles se sont vues.

mais ...

  • Elles se sont téléphoné (parce qu'on téléphone à quelqu'un).

Common Pronominal Verbs

Be sure to familiarize yourself with common pronominal verbs, such as:

se promener ("to walk around")

se coucher ("to go to bed")

s'asseoir ("to sit down")

se concentrer ("to concentrate")

se fâcher ("to get angry")

se lever ("to get up")

se passer ("to happen")

s'habiller ("to get dressed")

se dépêcher ("to rush")

se demander ("to wonder")

s'intéresser à ("to be interested in")

se fier ("to trust")

se souvenir ("to remember")

s'occuper ("to take care of")

se reposer ("to rest")

s'inquiéter ("to worry")

se doucher ("do take a shower")

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