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TNs, U47: Verbs: Pronominal(Reciprocal/Subjective/Passive Pronominal Verbs, Objects & Agreement)

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Pronominal Verbs

A pronominal verb is always paired with a reflexive pronoun that agrees with the subject and (almost) always precedes its verb. In "Verbs: Present 3", you learned about reflexive verbs, which describe actions being done by the subject to the subject.

  • La femme se promène. — The woman goes for a walk. (Lit, "walks herself".)
  • Vous vous levez. — You are getting up. (Lit, "You raise yourself.")

Pronominal verbs always take être as an auxiliary in compound tenses like the passé composé. The pronominal verb se lever ("to get up") means to physically get up from a non-standing position, not to wake up.

  • Je me lève à sept heures. — I get up at seven o’clock.
  • Elle s'est levée tôt. — She got up early.
  • Ils se sont rasés hier. — They shaved yesterday.

When a pronominal verb is inverted in a formal question, its reflexive pronoun stays before the verb.

  • S'est-elle lavée ? — Did she wash?
  • Mon frère se rase-t-il encore ? — Is my brother still shaving?

Reciprocal Verbs

Another type of pronominal verb, the reciprocal verb, is used with plural subject pronouns and describes when multiple people act upon each other.

  • Ils s'aiment. — They love each other.
  • Les filles se parlent. — The girls speak to each other.
  • Vous vous embrassez. — You are kissing each other.
  • Nous nous téléphonions souvent dans ce temps-là. — We used to call each other often back then.

Recall from "Pronouns 1" that you can distinguish between reflexive and reciprocal meanings by appending certain pronouns.

  • Ils s'aiment eux-mêmes. — They love themselves.
  • Elles s'aiment les unes les autres. — They love one another.
  • Nous nous parlions à nous-mêmes. — We were speaking to ourselves.

Subjective Pronominal Verbs

Subjective (or idiomatic) pronominal verbs have a reflexive pronoun because they are idiomatic; they do not have a reflexive or reciprocal meaning. Examples include se souvenir, se taire, se marier, and s'enfuir.

  • Elle s'est souvenue. — She remembered.
  • Parfois, il faut se taire. — Sometimes, it is necessary to keep quiet.
  • Elle s'est mariée le mois dernier. — She got married last month.
  • Veut-il s'enfuir ? — Does he want to run away?

Passive Pronominal Verbs

A pronominal verb can be used in a passive sense with an inanimate subject in the third-person, often the indefinite pronoun ça.

  • Ça se voit. — It shows. (Lit, "It sees itself.")
  • Ça se peut. — It is possible.
  • Le sol se nettoie facilement. — The floor can be cleaned easily.
  • La réunion s'est bien passée. — The meeting went well.

This construction may sound unusual to Anglophones, but it is a common alternative to using the passive voice when one wishes to avoid naming an agent.

  • Les vers se sont écrits ainsi. — The verses have been written this way.
  • Ce mot, comment se prononce-t-il ? — How is this word pronounced?

Objects and Agreement

Pronominal verbs have the same transitivity as their non-pronominal forms. For instance, appeler is transitive, so s'appeler is also transitive. When a pronominal verb is transitive, the reflexive pronoun is its direct object.

  • Elles se sont appelées. — They called each other.
  • On se lève maintenant. — We are getting up now.

When a pronominal verb is intransitive, se is its indirect object. As a consequence, the past participle remains invariable.

  • Elles se sont téléphoné. — They called each other.
  • Ces trois rois se sont succédé. — These three kings succeeded one another.

Some verbs can have both direct and an indirect objects, in which case the reflexive pronoun is the indirect object.

  • La fille s'achète des jupes. — The girl is buying herself some skirts.
  • On se donnait des fleurs. — We gave each other flowers.

When describing actions on parts of the body, Francophones avoid using possessive adjectives; instead, they use reflexive verbs with definite articles whenever possible.

  • Elle se lave les cheveux. — She is washing her hair.
  • Nous nous brossons les dents. — We are brushing our teeth.

Notice that the past participles of the previous two examples do not agree with the reflexive pronouns. While pronominal verbs take être as an auxiliary, they behave like avoir verbs because their participles actually only agree with preceding direct objects. If there is no preceding direct object, they are invariable. In the next two examples, the direct objects follow the verb, so the participles are still invariable.

  • La fille s'est acheté des jupes. — The girl bought herself some skirts.
  • Elles se sont lavé les cheveux. — They washed their hair.

In the next examples, the participles agree with preceding direct objects.

  • Il se les est acheté(e)s. — He bought them (for himself).
  • Ce sont les robes qu'elle s'est achetées. — Those are the dresses that she bought (herself).

Important: If you find any errors in the Tips and Notes, have questions related to the grammar points above, or would like to discuss the topic in depth, please feel free to comment below. We ask that you keep your comments on topic so that this post stays educational and everyone can benefit from them. Any spam or unrelated comments will be deleted.

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1 month ago

3 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Mega-Slowking
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Sorry I'm quite confused as to when to match the gender/number on PP with pronominal verbs. You said the following:

While pronominal verbs take être as an auxiliary, they behave like avoir verbs because their participles actually only agree with preceding direct objects. If there is no preceding direct object, they are invariable.

But the following three all conjugate the PPs.

Je me lève à sept heures. — I get up at seven o’clock.

Elle s'est levée tôt. — She got up early.

Ils se sont rasés hier. — They shaved yesterday.

1 month ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Sitesurf
Mod
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In the latter 2 examples, the direct object is the reflexive pronoun and it is placed before the verb. As a consequence, the past participle agrees with the reflexive pronoun.

In your first example "je me lève" is in simple present. If the tense were the passé composé, "je me suis levé" would have the PP in masculine if "je" is male and "je me suis levée" with the PP in feminine if "je" is female.

1 month ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mega-Slowking
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Ah, I forgot that I need to conjugate the PP even on avoir cases when there is a preceding noun/pronoun before it. Thanks!

4 weeks ago
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