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The grammatical term "pronominal" means "relating to a pronoun." You already know that conjugated verbs always need a subject pronoun (except in the case of the imperative), but pronominal verbs need a reflexive pronoun as well.
|Il se souvient toujours de se raser.||He always remembers to shave.|
|Je me lève.||I’m getting up.|
|Tu t’endors.||You’re falling asleep.|
English doesn’t have pronominal verbs per se. We can translate Je m’habille as "I’m dressing myself," but we’re far more likely to say "I’m getting dressed" – the fact that it’s myself is implicitly understood. This is not the case in French. If you’re dressing yourself, you need the reflexive pronoun, because without it, you’re automatically saying that you’re dressing someone else.
French students first learn about reflexive verbs, but those are only one of four types of pronominal verbs. Click on the lessons for more information and a list of common verbs:
- Reflexive verbs – subject acts on itself
- Reciprocal verbs – subjects act on one another
- Idiomatic pronominal verbs – reflexive pronoun changes the meaning of the verb
- Essentially pronominal verbs – verb can only be used pronominally
Many French verbs can be used reflexively and reciprocally as well as non-pronominally.
|Nous nous voyons dans la glace.||We see ourselves in the mirror.|
|Nous nous voyons tous les jours.||We see each other every day.|
|Nous voyons beaucoup de films.||We see lots of movies.|
Conjugating pronominal verbs
The infinitive of pronominal verbs is preceded by the impersonal reflexive pronoun se, which must change to agree with the subject of the verb. The verb itself is conjugated as usual according to whether it’s regular, irregular, or stem-changing.
|se raser – to shave|
|je me rase|
|tu te rases|
|il se rase|
|nous nous rasons|
|vous vous rasez|
|ils se rasent|
|se souvenir – to remember|
|je me souviens|
|tu te souviens|
|il se souvient|
|nous nous souvenons|
|vous vous souvenez|
|ils se souviennent|
|se lever – to get up|
|je me lève|
|tu te lèves|
|il se lève|
|nous nous levons|
|vous vous levez|
|ils se lèvent|
The reflexive pronoun has to match the subject in all tenses and moods.
|Future||Je me lèverai.||I will get up.|
|Passé composé||Je me suis levé.||I got up.|
|Infinitive||Je vais me lever.||I’m going to get up.|
|Present participle||En me levant||While getting up|
In addition, pronominal verbs usually require agreement in the compound conjugations.
Regardless of whether it’s specified in the dictionary, most transitive verbs, e.g., pincer (to pinch) and blesser (to wound), can be used pronominally. When used this way, these verbs follow the same conjugation rules as "official" pronominal verbs.
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