La routine: the pronominal verbs in French
Welcome back to our series in French conjugations and verbs. Today we are going to see how the French pronominal verbs work in depth. You might have heard about them as "reflexive" verbs but these ones only cover a portion of what pronominal verbs are. There are three types + some basic verbs commonly used as pronominals simply to add an extra information to the sentence. Then we'll see some verbs and vocabulary used to describe your routine.
C'est parti !
1) 3 types of pronominal verbs
Basically, when you start learning French one of the very first thing you encounter is "Je m'appelle". Typically, we translate it as "My name is" though the literal translation is "I call myself". This is an important detail because it highlights the French mentality and the way they introduce themselves is "This is how I am called" rather than "this is the name I own / this is who I am".
In the case of this verbs, there are two versions : s'appeler and "appeler". Commonly pronominal verbs are actually verbs that need a complement. This complement will either be the person doing the action or external.
Ex: Je m'appelle Marie. = My name is Marie / I call myself Marie.
J'appelle ma mère = I call my mother.
Ma mère s'appelle Lucie. = My mother's name is Lucie / My mother calls herself Lucie.
When it comes to English / French, translating literally is rarely a good idea but can help feature some cultural differences.
The pronouns are placed before the verb and they are:
Je me / m'
Tu te / t'
Il, elle, on se / s'
Ils, elles se / s'
se + consonant
s' + vowels
The first and most common category of pronominal verbs are reflexive. Though you don't always need to translate them back in your English sentence, it has to be understood that they involve an action perpetrated by the subject onto themselves.
Ex: Je me lave = I wash (myself) up
Je me réveille = I wake (myself) up
Here, it can get a little tricky. See, there's nothing that looks different from the reflexive verbs except the way you understand it. When using reflexive verbs, it doesn't matter how many people are present they all do one action toward themselves. With reciprocal verbs, they do it to each other. It means that you need to determine, depending on the context how to translate a sentence. Another thing is, reciprocal verbs can only be involving several person and not just one individual.
Ex: Nous nous parlons = We talk to each other
=> it's not me talking to myself while you're talking to yourself. = exchange
Nous nous lavons. = We wash up (ourselves).
=> it's unlikely that a person would say "we wash each other"
If the context is not clear and you really want to say "we do ---- to one another" you could add an extra pronoun such as "l'un l'autre"
Ex: Nous nous coiffons. = I do my hair, you do yours.
BUT = Nous nous coiffons l'un l'autre = I do your hair, you do mine
In the case of the subjectives (and pronominal) verbs, there are no clue to indicate that the action is performed on oneself or two persons to each other. It's a neutral form, with verbs that simply need to be conjugated with a pronoun. They are also called "autonomous".
Ex: Il se moque de sa soeur. = He mocks / laughs at his sister.
Je me souviens de mon enfance. = I remember my childhood.