In French, you can’t even get out of bed without reflexive verbs.
Think about your morning routine.
Je me lève (I get up), je me lave (I wash myself), je m’habille (I get dressed), je me brosse les dents (I brush my teeth)…
Reflexive verbs indicate that an action is being “reflected back” on the subject. These types of verbs are very common in French, so knowing how to conjugate them correctly is crucial to even basic communication.
Fortunately, even though reflexive verbs can look confusing at first, they’re actually pretty easy to get the hang of. If you already have some familiarity with basic French conjugation rules, then you’re just a few more steps away from expert reflexive verb conjugation, too.
So, check yourself before you wreck yourself because we’re diving in!
How to Recognize French Reflexive Verbs
Reflexive verbs are preceded by the pronoun se in their infinitive form. Generally speaking, the presence of se indicates that the subject is performing an action on himself/herself/itself.
Let’s look at an example to clear this idea up.
Take the verb se laver. This verb means “to wash oneself.”
By contrast, with the verb laver (to wash), the subject could be washing something else.
Il se lave. (He washes himself.)
Il lave la voiture. (He washes the car.)
The reflexive pronoun se can change depending on the subject of your sentence—more on that in a minute.
While there are other types of reflexive verbs, we’re going to stick with this narrow definition for now so that we can home in on the topic of conjugating these verbs.
To get more comfortable with spotting reflexive verbs before we dive into all the conjugation rules, check out FrenchToday’s list of 100 French reflexive verbs.
FluentU is an excellent resource to look for French reflexive verbs “in the wild.”
With FluentU, you never have to worry about getting lost thanks to interactive subtitles and other tools.
Just click any word you don’t recognize and FluentU will pause the video to give you an instant definition and grammatical info. There are also English captions you can toggle on or off, flashcards, fun quizzes and more.
You’ll pick up reflexive verbs and tons of other language concepts, the way French speakers really use them. And it doesn’t even feel like studying. Best of all, if you’ve got a busy schedule, you can squeeze in French practice anywhere on the FluentU iOS or Android apps.
When you’re ready to start conjugating—or to see how much you know already—ToLearnFrench has a quick present-tense reflexive verb practice quiz. Then head over to the University of Texas for practice with both the present tense and the passé composé.
Ready to really put yourself to the test? Try Lingolia’s mash-up of French reflexive verbs in multiple tenses.
This Super Simple French Reflexive Verb Conjugation Guide Practically Teaches Itself
How to Conjugate French Reflexive Verbs in the Present Tense
With reflexive verb conjugation, you have to do two important things:
- Change the spelling of the verb to agree with the subject/tense
- Change the reflexive pronoun to agree with the subject
The good news is that most verbs follow their non-reflexive spelling change patterns. In other words, if you already know how to conjugate a non-reflexive verb, you don’t need to learn any new spellings for the reflexive version.
As for the reflexive pronouns, these are pretty easy to remember:
- Je (I) → me
- tu (you) → te
- il, elle, on (he, she, one/we) → se
- nous (we) → nous
- vous (you, formal/you all) → vous
- ils, elles (they) → se
There’s only one small thing to keep in mind: remember that me, te and se shorten to m’, t’ and s’ before a word that starts with a vowel.
And that’s it! Count yourself up to date on French reflexive verbs in the present tense. Check out these three regular reflexive verbs conjugated fully, noticing how different reflexive pronouns line up with different subjects.
Se laver (to wash oneself)
Je me lave avant le dîner. (I wash myself for dinner.)
Tu te laves après la classe. (You wash yourself after class.)
Il/elle/on se lave le matin. (He/she/one washes himself/herself/oneself in the mornings.)
Nous nous lavons chaque jour. (We wash ourselves every day.)
Vous vous lavez dans la salle de bains. (You all wash yourselves in the bathroom.)
Ils/elles se lavent avec de l’eau et du savon. (They wash themselves with water and soap.)
Se réunir (to meet one another)
On se réunit dans la salle de classe. (We meet in the classroom.)
Nous nous réunissons pour l’anniversaire de notre grand-mère. (We meet up for our grandmother’s birthday.)
Vous vous réunissez lundi pour parler des contrats. (You’re going to all meet up on Monday to talk about the contracts.)
Ils/elles se réunissent vendredi au bar. (They’re meeting up on Friday at the bar.)
S’attendre à (to expect)
Je m’attends à un appel de votre part. (I’m expecting a phone call from you.)
Tu t’attends à un essai de ton étudiant. (You expect an essay from your student.)
Il/elle/on s’attend à rester à la maison toute la fin de semaine. (He/she/one expects to stay home for the whole weekend.)
Nous nous attendons à étudier pour trois heures ce soir. (We expect to study for three hours tonight.)
Vous vous attendez à recevoir votre patron à 15h. (You all expect to greet your boss at 3:00 p.m.)
Ils/elles s’attendent à embarquer dans l’avion à 6h. (They expect to take the plane at 6:00 a.m.)
How to Conjugate French Reflexive Verbs in Other Simple Tenses
Once you know how to conjugate reflexive verbs in the present tense, you’re ready to conjugate them in other simple tenses, too.
Simple tenses (unlike compound tenses, which we’ll cover below) don’t require an auxiliary verb before the main verb. You may already be familiar with some simple tenses such as the imparfait (the imperfect past) or the futur simple (simple future).
Just like above, the only difference between a reflexive verb and a non-reflexive verb in these tenses is the addition of the reflexive pronoun that agrees with the subject. All other verb spelling changes stay the same.
For example, check out the reflexive verb se détendre (to relax) in the futur simple:
Se détendre (to relax)
Je me détendrai après l’école. (I will relax after school.)
Tu te détendras quand tu aura fini tes devoirs. (You will relax once you have finished your homework.)
Il/elle/on se détendra dimanche. (He/she/one will relax on Sunday.)
Nous nous détendrons à la fête. (We will relax at the party.)
Vous vous détendrez demain. (You all will relax tomorrow.)
Ils/elles se détendront quand ils auront complété le projet. (They will relax once they have finished the project.)
How to Use Reflexive Verbs in Compound Tenses
As you might already know, compound tenses in French are tenses that use an auxiliary verb. For example, in the passé composé, you need to use either the verb être or avoir before the past participle of your main verb.
When conjugating reflexive verbs in compound tenses, always use être as your auxiliary verb. The auxiliary goes after the reflexive pronoun.
Because all reflexive verbs conjugate in compound tenses with the auxiliary être (to be), their past participles must agree in gender and number with the subject. The general rules are:
Add -s to the participle for masculine, plural subjects
Add -e to the participle for feminine, singular subjects
Add -es to the participle for feminine, plural subjects
Further, verbs follow the regular formation rules for past participles (-er becomes -é, -ir becomes -i and -re becomes -u) and verbs that have irregular past participles in the non-reflexive form also retain them in the reflexive verb form.
Check out this example of the reflexive verb se réveiller (to wake up) in the passé composé (past tense).
Se réveiller (to wake up)
Je me suis réveillé(e) à 4h. (I woke up at 4:00 a.m.)
Tu t’es réveillé(e) quand tu as entendu le bruit. (You woke up when you heard the noise.)
Il/elle/on s’est réveillé(e) pour la classe de français. (He/she/one woke up for French class.)
Nous nous sommes réveillé(e)s après avoir eu une soirée fantastique. (We woke up after having had a fantastic evening.)
Vous vous êtes réveillé(e)s à 16h de vos sommes. (You all woke up at 4:00 p.m. from your naps.)
Ils/elles se sont réveillé(e)s quand l’alarme a sonné. (They woke up when the alarm sounded.)
These conjugation rules can be transferred to other compound tenses such as the plus-que-parfait (pluperfect), the futur antérieur (future perfect) and the conditionnel passé (past conditional).
For example, check out se réveiller in the plus-que-parfait (pluperfect).
Se réveiller (to wake up)
Je m’étais réveillé(e) à 4h. (I had woken up at 4:00 a.m.)
Tu t’étais réveillé(e) quand tu as entendu le bruit. (You had woken up when you heard the noise.)
Il/elle/on s’était réveillé(e) pour la classe de français. (He/she/one had woken up for French class.)
Nous nous étions réveillé(e)s après avoir eu une soirée fantastique. (We had woken up after having had a fantastic evening.)
Vous vous étiez réveillé(e)s à 16h de vos sommes. (You all had woken up at 4:00 p.m. from your naps.)
Ils/elles se étaient réveillé(e)s quand l’alarme a sonné. (They had woken up when the alarm sounded.)
How to Conjugate French Reflexive Verbs in the Futur Proche
The futur proche (the near future) looks similar to the compound tenses we discussed above, because it uses the verb aller (to go) before the main verb. However, it doesn’t follow the same patterns as above.
When putting a reflexive verb in the futur proche, simply conjugate the verb aller in the present tense, then change the reflexive pronoun to agree with the subject.
Notice that the verb aller comes before the reflexive pronoun in this tense and the main verb stays in the infinitive.
Je vais me baigner. (I’m going to bathe.)
Tu vas te cacher. (You are going to hide.)
Il/elle/on va se changer. (He/she/one is going to change outfits.)
Nous allons nous doucher. (We are going to shower.)
Vous allez vous maquiller. (You all are going to put on makeup.)
Ils/elles vont se raser. (They are going to shave.)
The Irregularities of French Reflexive Verb Conjugation
As with everything in French, there are quite a few irregularities when it comes to conjugating reflexive verbs. Lucky for us, you may already be familiar with many of these irregularities from each verb’s non-reflexive form.
For example, the second e in the non-reflexive verb lever transforms to è for the present tense conjugations of je, tu, il, elle, ils and elles.
Je lève mon verre. (I raise my glass.)
The verb se lever has the same irregularity.
Je me lève. (I get up.)
Other examples include se plaindre (to complain), se joindre (to join), s’endormir (to fall asleep), se mettre (to start) and se souvenir (to remember), which follow the same irregular conjugations patterns and past participles as their non-reflexive forms.
However, there are two common irregular reflexive verbs whose non-reflexive verbs aren’t so well known, so you may not already be familiar with their conjugations: s’asseoir (to sit down) and se taire (to keep quiet).
Keep in mind that s’asseoir is especially unique as it can be conjugated two ways. One isn’t more common than the other, and both are considered correct.
Check out s’asseoir and se taire in the present tense:
S’asseoir (to sit)
Je m’assieds/Je m’assois sur la chaise. (I sit on the chair.)
Tu t’assieds/Tu t’assois à côté de moi. (You sit beside me.)
Elle s’assied/Elle s’assoit sur le canapé. (She sits on the couch.)
Nous nous asseyons/Nous nous assoyons près de la porte. (We sit close to the door.)
Vous vous asseyez, vous vous assoyez devant la scène. (You all sit in front of the stage.)
Ils/elles s’asseyent, ils/elles s’assoient ensemble. (They sit together.)
Se taire (to be quiet)
Je me tais quand le professeur est en train de parler. (I am quiet when the teacher talks.)
Tu te tais pendant le film. (You are quiet during the film.)
Il/elle/on se tait maintenant. (He/she/one is quiet now.)
Nous nous taisons tout de suite. (We are immediately quiet.)
Vous vous taisez à 17h. (You all are quiet at 9:00 p.m.)
Ils/elles se taisent pendant la conférence. (They are quiet during the lecture.)
So get yourself ready! It’s time to master those French reflexive verb conjugations!
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