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Pronominal verbs are verbs that require an extra pronoun and are also known as reflexive verbs. These kind of verbs can be especially tricky for English speaks because they are utilized in many common phrases in French that would not be reflexive in English. Actually, pronominal verbs (or reflexive verbs) aren’t used all that often in English. An example would be “She threw herself onto the floor in a tantrum.” Here, “herself” is the added pronoun and, without it, the sentence wouldn’t make that much sense.
Here are some common pronominal verbs in French:
se laver (to wash)
se brosser les dents (to wash one’s teeth)
se lever (to wake up)
se réveiller (another verb meaning “to wake up”)
se coucher (to go to bed)
s’arrêter (to stop)
s’asseoir (to sit down)
se promener (to go for a walk)
In French, you can take almost any verb and turn it into a reflexive verb by adding a pronoun. However, there are certain verbs, like the ones listed above, that cannot be used without this extra pronoun.
Thus, in English, you would say: “I brushed my teeth.” Here, the verb is not pronominal, but “my teeth” is added instead of “the teeth” or simply “teeth.” In French, this would become a pronominal verb with a definite article: “Je me lave les dents.” Literally, this means something like “I wash myself the teeth,” but means exactly what the English sentence above means.
Another example: In English, you would say, quite simply, “He sat down.” There is no extra pronoun or pronominal verb here. However, in French, it is grammatically incorrect to say: “Il a assis.” Rather, you need to add the reflexive form of the verb and since pronominal verbs only take the verb être and not avoir, it becomes: “Il s’est assis” (literally, “he sat down”).
Can you take some of the examples above and make sentences with them? Try to use a variety of pronouns and, if you want more of a challenge, try conjugating the pronominal verb in the past tense (remember the rule that pronominal verbs take être and not avoir!). Show off your fancy sentences in the comments below!