What are reflexive verbs?

An explanation of the conjugation of reflexive verbs - verbs that perform an action on themselves

Reflexive verbs in French are verbs which mean an action done to oneself, for example, laver means 'to wash', but se laver means 'to get washed' or literally ‘to wash oneself’.

That's why in the infinitive form the verb has se in front of it and this needs to change as we talk about other people doing the action just as in English – he has a wash/he washes himself or we are having a wash/we wash ourselves.

How to form a sentence using a reflexive verb

Reflexive verbs follow the normal formation patterns and many are regular -er verbs. They just have an extra pronoun.

Here’s an example with se laver in the present tense:

FrenchEnglish
Je me laveI wash myself
Tu te lavesYou wash yourself
Il/elle/on se laveHe washes himself/she washes herself/we wash ourselves
Nous nous lavonsWe wash ourselves
Vous vous lavezYou wash yourselves
Ils/elles se laventThey wash themselves

Remember that me, te, se become m', t', s' before a vowel or silent -h:

  • je m'appelle
  • tu t'appelles
  • il/elle/on s'appelle
  • nous nous appelons
  • vous vous appelez
  • ils/elles s'appellent

Further examples:

  • il s’habille pour aller à la fête de Marc - he gets dressed to go to Marc’s party
  • vous vous levez tôt ! - you get up early!