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Les verbes pronominaux, tell me more…

'Reflexive' verbs are the subject of many emails we receive…

We receive many questions on the subject of les verbes prononominaux. So, what is a verbe pronominal, exactly?

As its name suggests, a verbe pronominal is a verb preceded by a pronoun which refers back to the subject. Les verbes pronominaux can have various functions – reflexive, reciprocal, passive, pronominal… but let's not get caught up in technicalities. Let's consider some real-world examples.

First of all, be aware that les verbes pronominaux use the auxiliary verb être in compound tenses. There are 2 categories of verbes pronominaux, as follows:

  • Les verbes essentiellement pronominaux
    • These are verbs which are always preceded by a pronoun. Consider the following:
      1. Les prix s'envolent. (verbe s'envoler)
        Prices are soaring.
      2. Les enfants se rebellent. (verbe se rebeller)
        The children are rebelling.
      3. Des milliers de Syriens se sont réfugiés en Algérie. (verbe se réfugier)
        Thousands of Syrians took refuge in Algeria.
      4. Elle s'est souvenue de ce que son frère lui avait dit. (verbe se souvenir (de))
        She remembered what her brother had said to her.
      5. Les cambrioleurs se sont enfuis. (verbe s'enfuir)
        The robbers ran off.
      6. Les militantes se sont évadées en Chine. (verbe s'évader)
        The [female] activists escaped in China.
      7. Son femme s'est absentée un moment. (verbe s'absenter)
        His wife absented herself for a moment.
    • So, les verbes essentiellement pronominaux are always preceded by a pronoun. (It is not possible, for example to use the verbe absenter without the reflexive pronoun se.
  • Les verbes occasionnellement pronominaux
    • These are verbs which are sometimes used transitively (without a reflexive pronoun) and sometimes reflexively (with a reflexive pronoun). Consider the following:
      1. Je regarde la télévision.
        I watch the television. (transitive: la télévision is the direct object of the verb regarder)
      2. Je me regarde dans le miroir.
        I look at myself in the mirror. (reflexive: the pronoun me precedes the verb regarder)

Whether verbs are always reflexive, or sometimes reflexive determines how the past participle should 'agree'. That will be the subject of our next post.


Once again, you will find many concrete examples of verbes pronominaux in the PDF Guides which accompany our audio lessons.

A très bientôt.

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