Reflexive verbs in French are certain verbs refer to the fact that that the subject of the sentence is doing something to himself/herself/itself (the verb is “reflecting” back on the subject of the sentence). In French, certain pronouns must be included when you’re constructing a sentence with a reflexive verb, even if the same sentence in English when you would not normally say “myself/yourself/itself, etc”.

The reflexive pronouns
je me nous nous
tu te vous vous
il/elle se ils/elles se

When NOT to use reflexive pronouns

Use the reflexive pronouns only when the action is being performed on the subject of the sentence. If the verb is being done to something or someone other than the subject of the sentence, it’s not reflexive.

Many French reflexive verbs can also be non-reflexive, as well. For example:

Tu te laves (“You wash yourself”), but

Tu laves le chien (“You wash the dog”)

Where to position reflexive pronouns in the sentence

In the present tense, the reflexive pronouns go directly in front of the verb.

English: “I wake up” → French: “Je me réveille” (literally, “I wake myself up”)

 With ne…pas and other negation

In single-verb constructions, the negation structure goes around the entire verb structure (negation part 1 + reflexive pronoun + verb + negation part 2).

Elle ne se dépêche pas. (“She does not hurry”)

Vous ne vous rêvez jamais. (“You never dream”)

In compound (two-part) verb structures, the negation goes around the reflexive pronoun and first verb (negation part 1 + reflexive pronoun + conjugated verb + negation part 2 + past participle).

Il ne s’est pas réveillé. (“He did not wake up”)

Conjugating reflexive verbs in passé composé (and plus-que parfait)

Many English speakers are surprised to learn that all reflexive verbs are conjugated with être in the passé composé and plus-que parfait verb tenses. Just like the other verbs that are normally conjugated with être (the “Dr Mrs Vandertramp” verbs), the past participle also needs to agree with in gender and plurality of the subject of the sentence.

Below, the underlined words show the distinction between who or what the verb of the sentence is applying to.

With passé composé

NOT REFLEXIVE: J’ai maquillé mon ami (“I applied makeup to my friend”, conjugated with avoir, no feminine ending on the past participle maquillé)

REFLEXIVE: Je me suis maquillée (“I applied my makeup”, conjugated with être, feminine ending on the past participle maquillé because the speaker is female)

With plus-que parfait

NOT REFLEXIVE: Elles avaient baigné les chiens (“They had bathed the dogs”, conjugated with avoir)

REFLEXIVE: Elles sétaient baignées. (They had bathed themselves”, conjugated with être, feminine and plural ending on the past participle baigné because the subject is feminine plural)

With negation in passé composé

REFLEXIVE: Vous ne vous étiez pas lavés (“You did not wash yourselves”, the ne…pas surrounds the reflexive pronoun and conjugated verb, and the past participle stands alone)

List of reflexive verbs

Most reflexive verbs fall into one of these two categories: hygiene or personal tasks that refer to a person’s upkeep or verbs of a person’s emotions or actions to himself.

Verbs of hygiene/personal tasks
se laver to wash oneself
se réveiller to wake up
se lever to get up
se rêver to dream
se brosser to brush
se maquiller to apply makeup
se baigner to bathe
se coiffer to fix one’s hair
se coucher to go to bed
s’habiller/se déshabiller to get dressed/undressed
se moucher to blow one’s nose
se peigner to comb
se raser to shave
se reposer to rest


Verbs of one’s emotions/actions
se taire to be quiet
s’énerver to be annoyed
se dépêcher to hurry
se couper to cut oneself
s’habituer a to get used to
se fier/se méfier to trust/to distrust
se fâcher to get angry
se fatiguer to tire
s’imaginer to imagine
s’intéresser à to be interested in
se marier to get married
se moquer to make fun of
se noyer to drown
se promener to take a walk
se soûler to get drunk
se souvenir de to remember
s’enrhumer to get a cold

There are also two other types of verbs that are conjugated with the reflexive pronouns: reciprocal verbs and idiomatic pronominal verbs.

French reciprocal verbs

Reciprocal verbs are simply verbs that use the reflexive pronoun if the direct object is a pronoun (with the same position rules as the other reflexive verbs, above). For example, “I see you,” becomes “Je te vois” in French. Basically, these verbs mean that two different subjects are acting on each other.

These verbs can also be used non-reflexively if the object of the sentence is not a pronoun, such as “Je vois mon ami” (“I see my friend”).

Reciprocal Verbs
s’adorer to adore something
s’aimer to love something
s’apercevoir to see something
se parler to talk with someone
se voir to see each other
se comprendre to understand someone
se dire to speak to each other
se connaître to know each other
s’écrire to write to someone
se disputer to argue with someone
se détester to hate someone
se promettre to promise someone
s’embrasser to kiss someone
se quitter to leave someone
se regarder to look at something
se rencontre to meet someone
se sourire to smile at someone
se téléphoner to call someone

Idiomatic pronominal verbs

Finally, there are also verbs that mean one thing when there’s not a reflexive pronoun, and something slightly different when a reflexive pronoun is used.

Idiomatic Pronominal Verbs
s’en aller to go away
s’appeler to be named
s’attendre à to wait for
se demander to wonder
se doubter to suspect
s’eloigner to move oneself away
s’endormir to fall asleep
s’ennuyer to be bored
s’eloigner to move oneself away
se figurer to imagine, picture
s’habituer à to get used to
s’installer to settle in
se mettre à to begin to
se perdre to get lost
se plaindre to complain
se refuser de to deny oneself
se rendre à to go to
se rendre compte de to realize
se servir to make use of
se tromper to be mistaken
se trouver to be located
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