How To Make Sense Of Reflexive Verbs in French

Written byAmélie Pinon

What time do you get up? A quel heure reveillez vous? (ah kell uhr ruh vay yay voo)

We are once again talking about the reflexive verb, because the French wake themselves up.

Just as in "my name is" really translates to "I call myself", the French say "Je me leve a sept heures." ( je me lev ah set uhr) "I get up at seven o'clock." Since you already know how to say "My name is", "Your name is", etc., you can now use the same rules to say "I get up", "You get up", etc. Compare them:

Je m'appelle Marie

Je me leve a sept heures

Tu t'appelles Marie

Tu te leves a huit heures

Elle s'appelle Marie

Elle se leve a six heures

Il s'appelle Francois

Il se leve a neuf heures

Nous nous appellons Dubois

Nous nous levons a onze heures (Nous sommes en vacances!- We are on vacation!)

Vous vous appellez Mme. Dubois

Vous vous levez a sept heures et demi

Ils s'appellent Dubois

Ils se levent a six heures et demis

We snuck a little something in there, didn't we?

Well, not everyone gets up on the hour.

We might get up at half past, a quarter after, ten before. Let's have a look at telling the time.

The French use the 24 hour clock, especially for train departures, appointments and the like.

They may use the 12 hour clock, but they would usually be specific and say "two in the afternoon".

If you look at the number table in the previous chapter, you will be able to ask what time it is and also tell people what time it is. We say "Quelle heure est'il?" (kell uhr ay teal) and "Il est___heures." (eel ay___ uhr). Easy right? Il est une heure, Il est deux heures, Il est tres heures and so on.

If everyone would only be so kind as to ask us the time on the exact hour, we would have no problem. However, we have to be able to add fifteen minutes, a half hour or forty minutes.

As you see in the table above, 7:30 is "Sept heures et demi" (set uhr ay demi).

Here are some others, and as you plug in the numbers you have learned, you can have an infinite variety of times to talk about. 8:15-Huit heures quinze 10:25-Dix heures vingt cinq 6:35-Six heures trente cinq Wait, we said 6:30 was "six heures et demi". The half hour can be expressed as thirty or as "half".

Fifteen minutes can likewise be expressed as "quinze" or "le quart" (luh car). Well, now that we are up, we have to use a lot more reflexive verbs to get ready.

In French, you use the reflexive verb to do most things for yourself.

I wash my face

Je me lave le visage

Juh muh lahv luh vee sahge

I brush my teeth

Je me brosse les dents

Juh muh bross lay don

I shave

Je me rase

Juh me roz

Using the infinitives of each of these verbs, try to substitute you, s/he for each of the expressions above: Wash-"laver"; brush-"brosser"; shave-"raser". You will have to look back at the endings for the "er" verbs, but this is how you will build your knowledge, since each chapter is building upon information found in a previous chapter.

Simply put, in French reflexive forms occur when something or someone does something to it/him/herself. Not very clear, so let's see some examples:


Je me lève le matin. / I get up (myself) in the morning.

Le chien se lèche les babines. / The dog licks (himself) his chops.

When this particular form occurs, the subject of the sentence (whether person, object or concept) is followed by the appropriate reflexive form, then the verb. To wit:

Je => me or m' (when me is followed directly by a vowel)

Tu => te or t' (when te is followed directly by a vowel)

Il,elle,on => se or s' (when se is followed directly by a vowel))

Nous => nous

Vous => vous

Ils, elles => se

We'll use laver / to wash and appeler / to call to illustrate:

Tu te laves les cheveux. / You wash your hair.

Tu t'appelles Mathieu. / You call yourself Mathieu.

CAREFUL**!** Use the correct reflexive form, or you will convey a meaning far different from what you intend.


Je me suis porté volontaire. / I volunteered myself.

Je l'ai porté volontaire. / I volunteered him.

In French, the following verbs are always reflexive :

s'écrier / to exclaim _or _cry out**; s'en aller /** to leave or go away**; se fier à /** to trust**; se méfier de /** to distrust**; se moquer de /** to make fun of**; se soucier de /** to care about; se souvenir de / remember

Self-reflexive expressions :

se brosser les dents / to brush one's teeth**; se casser la jambe /** to break one's leg**; se faire des amis /** to make friends for oneself**; se mettre en colère /** to get angry**; se rendre compte de /** to realize that

Reflexive forms rules:

  • a reflexive form can be used to express that mutual actions are being performed:

Example: Nous nous parlons. / We talk to each other.

  • when two verbs follow each other in a sentence, the reflexive form follows the first verb and precedes the second, since the second verb always indicates which action is being performed.

Example: J'espère m'acheter une voiture. / I hope to buy myself a car.

  • commands:

# Affirmative commands: the reflexive form follows the verb and is attached with a hyphen

Example: Peigne-toi les cheveux. / Literally: Self-comb your hair.

Me and Te are converted to Moi and Toi, for direct personal commands

Negative commands: the reflexive form precedes the verb

Example: Ne vous arrêtez pas! / Don't stop!

  • reflexive forms can be used to differentiate verbal meanings (reflexive and regular forms have very different meanings):


Je me proclame roi. / I proclaim myself king.

Je proclame le début des jeux. / I proclaim the begining of the games.

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How To Make Sense Of Reflexive Verbs in French
Reflexive verb forms in French occur when someone or something does something to it/him/herself. Here's how they work.
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