French/Grammar/Verbs

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Pronominal verbs[edit]

Pronominal verbs are verbs that include pronouns. These pronouns are me, te, se, nous, and vous and are used as either direct objects or indirect objects, depending on the verb that they modify. When pronominal verbs are conjugated in perfect tenses, être is used as the auxiliary verb.

The following table shows which reflexive pronoun to use with each form of the verb:

Subject Reflexive pronoun
je me
tu te
il, elle, on se
nous nous
vous vous
ils, elles se

Reflexive verbs[edit]

Reflexive verbs reflect the action on the subject.

  • Je me lave. - I wash myself.
  • Nous nous lavons. - We wash ourselves.
  • Ils se lavent. - They wash themselves.

Reflexive verbs can also be used as infinitives.

  • Je vais me laver. - I'm going to wash myself.

Either the conjugated verb or the infinitive can be negated each with slightly different meanings.

  • Je ne vais pas me laver. - I'm not going to wash myself.
  • Je vais ne pas me laver. - I'm going to not wash myself (for some period of time, e.g.).

In perfect tenses, the past participles agree with the direct object pronoun, but not the indirect object pronoun, in gender and plurality. Therefore it would only agree when the reflexive pronoun is the direct object. Also remember that the past participle does not agree with the direct object if it goes after the verb.

  • Elle s'est lavée. - She washed herself.
  • Nous nous sommes lavé(e)s. - We washed ourselves.
  • Elle s'est lavé les mains. - She washed her hands.
  • Nous nous sommes lavé les mains. - We washed our hands.

Here is an example conjugation of a reflexive verb:

Se coucher - to go to bed
Present[1] Passé composé[2] Futur proche[3]
Je me couche Je me suis couché(e) Je vais me coucher
Tu te couches Tu t'es couché(e) Tu vas te coucher
Il se couche Il s'est couché Il va se coucher
Elle se couche Elle s'est couchée Elle va se coucher
On se couche On s'est couché On va se coucher
Nous nous couchons Nous nous sommes couché(e)s Nous allons nous coucher
Vous vous couchez Vous vous êtes couché(e)(s) Vous allez vous coucher
Ils se couchent Ils se sont couchés Ils vont se coucher
Elles se couchent Elles se sont couchées Elles vont se coucher

^ 1. The futur simple, passé simple, imperfect, conditional and subjunctive are all conjugated with the reflexive pronoun in the same position as in the present.

^ 2. All reflexive verbs take être in the passé composé and therefore have an e added to the past participle for females and an s for plural.

^ 3. When a reflexive verb is put as an infinitive behind any other verb (e.g. vouloir, pouvoir, aller...) it still takes the appropriate reflexive pronoun.

Reciprocal verbs[edit]

With reciprocal verbs, people perform actions to each other.

Nous nous aimons. - We like each other.

Like reflexive verbs, the past participle of reciprocal verbs agrees in number and gender with the direct object if it goes before the verb. It therefore agrees with all reciprocal pronouns that function as direct objects.

Nous nous sommes aimé(e)s. - We liked each other.

The reciprocal pronoun can also function as an indirect object without a direct object pronoun.

Nous nous sommes parlé. - We spoke to each other.
Elles se sont téléphoné. - They telephoned one another.
Vous vous êtes écrit souvent? - You wrote to each other often?

Naturally pronominal verbs[edit]

Some verbs are pronominal without performing a reflexive or reciprocal action.

Tu te souviens? - Do you remember?

In perfect tenses, these verbs agree with the direct object if it goes before the verb. Otherwise, the past participle agrees with the subject.

Elle s'est souvenue. - She remembered.

Some verbs have different meanings as pronominal verbs.

  • rendre - to return, to give back
  • se rendre (à) - to go (to)

Negation[edit]

ne..pas[edit]

  • Simple negation is done by wrapping ne...pas around the verb.
    • Je ne vole pas. - I do not steal.
  • In a perfect tense, ne...pas wraps around the auxiliary verb, not the participle.
    • Je n'ai pas volé. - I haven't stolen.
  • When an infinitive and conjugated verb are together, ne...pas usually wraps around the conjugated verb.
    • Je ne veux pas voler. - I do not want to steal.
  • ne pas can also go directly in front of the infinitive for a different meaning.
    • Je veux ne pas voler. - I want not to steal.
  • ne goes before any pronoun relating to the verb it affects.
    • Je ne l'ai pas volé. - I did not steal it.
    • Nous ne nous aimons pas. - We do not love each other.

Other negative expressions[edit]

ne...aucun(e) not any, none, no
ne...jamais never
ne...ni...ni neither...nor
ne...pas du tout not at all
ne...pas encore not yet
ne...personne nobody
ne...plus no longer
ne...guère hardly
ne...que only
ne...rien nothing
  • ne...personne wraps around the entire verb set.
    • Je ne l'ai donné à personne. - I did not give it to anyone.
    • Je ne veux le donner à personne. - I do not want to give it to anybody.
  • ne...ni...ni requires two objects, either direct or indirect, and comes before them.
    • Je ne l'ai donné ni à mon frère, ni à ma sœur. - I gave it neither to my brother nor my sister.
    • Je ne peux voir ni mon frère ni ma sœur. - I am able to see neither my brother nor my sister.
  • In ne...aucun(e), aucun(e) goes before an object.
    • Il n'a aucun ami. Aucun. - He has no friend. None.
    • Il n'a aucune feuille de papier. Aucune. - He has no sheet of paper. None.
  • Il n'a qu'une feuille de papier. - He has only one piece of paper.
  • Je ne peux guère voir mon frère et ma sœur - I can hardly see my brother and sister.

Spoken French[edit]

Now, the 'ne' sometimes disappears when one speaks. However, it is always used in written French and for formal conversations.

  • Je ne l'ai donné à personne -> Je l'ai donné à personne (I didn't give it to anyone)
  • Je ne sais pas -> Je sais pas (I don't know)

Summary[edit]

To say not, never, or other negative verbs, you have to 'sandwich' the negative words around a verb.

Example:

  • Il n'y a pas de cinéma. (meaning: "There is no cinema")
  • On ne peut jamais aller en boîte. (meaning: "You can never go partying")
  • Il n' y a rien à faire ici. (meaning: "There is nothing to do here")

If " ne " is before a vowel then it changes to " n' ".