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THE PRONOMINAL VERBS

In the French verb system, there is a specific group referred to as 'pronominal'. The construction of French pronominal verbs differs slightly from that of other French verbs in the sense that one has to add an extra bit to them - a pronoun that agrees with the subject of the verb. Their infinitive form is given with the third person plural se (such as, for instance, se laver which literally means 'to wash oneself' and more idiomatically translates as 'to wash'). The pronouns used with je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous and ils/elles are respectively me, te, se, nous, vous, se. Please note that in front a vowel the final e in me , te and se is dropped to be replaced by an apostrophe (m', t', s').

Click here to see some examples and their translations.

Pronominal verbs can be subdivided into four main types. See below for a brief description of each.

Reflexive verbs: the best known category since the term is often used to refer to pronominal verbs as a whole. Essentially, they refer to actions that the subject does onto it- or himself. For instance: il se blesse (he hurts/injures himself), je me coiffe (I do my hair).

Reciprocal verbs: they refer to actions that people do to each other. For instance: nous nous connaissons (we know each other), ils se parlent (they talk to each other).

Essentially pronominal verbs: they refer to verbs that are neither reflexive nor reciprocal and exist either only in their pronominal form, such as, for instance, s'absenter (to leave) or take a different meaning when used with a pronoun, such as se recueillir (to meditate, to pray) as opposed to recueillir (to gather, to collect).

Finally, pronominal verbs can also be substitutes for the passive form, such as se lire (to read) and se vendre (to sell) as in a book that reads well or sells well.

When it comes to understanding and translating pronominal verbs, the context should normally guide you towards knowing which category they fall into and whether they refer to something the subjects do to themselves, to one another, or otherwise. Please note that very often, the pronoun will be left untranslated.

Now, look at the text below. It is not an authentic text but one that was designed purposefully to include a large number of pronominal verbs falling into the different categories described above. Start by spotting these verbs before trying to find a suitable translation for each of them (you do not need to translate the whole text).

Ce livre se vend comme des petits pains. C'est l'histoire d'un homme et d'une femme qui se rencontrent dans un parc où ils sont assis sur le même banc. Ils s'échangent de longs regards et finissent par se parler: ils se plaisent. Ils se promettent de s'appeler et de se revoir. Au téléphone, ils se donnent rendez-vous dans un café mais le jour des retrouvailles elle se casse une jambe et s'évanouit. L'homme s'accoude au bar et s'arme de patience mais il se fatigue et s'en va après une longue attente. Il pense que ça ne se fait pas de 'poser un lapin' comme ça! Il s'étonne de ce rendez-vous manqué et se demande si peut-être elle s'est trompée de jour, alors il se promet de se rendre à ce même café chaque jour et de s'asseoir jusqu'à ce qu'elle se manifeste...

Click here to see the answers