It is very common for people ask the question “why do we need pronouns?” Without going into boring grammar, let's just say that some verbs need the word "himself" (or an equivalent) to tag along in order to make sense. Without it, they are just weird. For example, in French, we don't say "I remember," we literally say "I myself remember" (Je me souviens). It's like saying "I make myself remember " or "I remember all by myself." But let's be honest: a lot of people hate pronouns. However, they are as handy as a blank tile in Scrabble. If you just learn a few rules (and a list of verbs), you will be in business in no time.


French verbs come in four categories:


  • Those that always need a pronoun.
  • Those that usually use a pronoun.
  • Those that definitely don't.
  • Those that don't require a pronoun but may need one in special occasions.


We will examine each category in more depth after we have established some basic rules. The most important one, and the hardest thing to assimilate in this whole chapter, goes like this:



For example, we don't say "I love you" we literally say "I you love" (Je t'aime).


I know it sounds crazy, but in French, it makes perfect sense. It's not confusing, take my word for it. Actually, it would sound terribly clumsy if the English structure was kept in French. Just like pigeon English does.


When a pronominal verb is in its infinitive form (not conjugated) we put se in front of it (or s' if the verb starts with a vowel). However, when we conjugate it, we need to "conjugate" the pronoun too. This is logical: these pronouns either mean "each other," "myself," "yourself," "himself" (etc.), so modifying them for each person is something you do in English too!


If a verb is either:


  • reflexive (the action is done by someone to himself/herself) or
  • reciprocal (the action simultaneously applies to both people involved)


the pronoun will mirror the subject.



In other words, if the subject is the first person singular, the pronoun will also be first person singular.


This looks like this (just add any verb to the table):











il / elle / on









ils / elles




If this is the first time you have heard about pronominal verbs, you will probably find the phrasing nous nous... and vous vous… quite shocking. It's because nous and vous can be both a subject and a pronoun. Count it as a blessing; it's less of a hassle that way.


Beware!: If a verb starts with a vowel, use the abbreviated version of the pronoun. To do so:


  • Remove the e in the pronouns me, te and se.
  • Replace it with an apostrophe.
  • Pronounce the now merged pronoun and verb as one word, with no gap!


Note: Merging words may seem a bit weird but, when you think about it, it's no weirder than the English contraction "don't" (do + not). We don't say [don]...[t]. So don't trip over that apostrophe in French either! Link the pronoun and the verb together when you pronounce them.


Here is a table of all the abbreviated pronouns:




Verb starting with a vowel







il / elle / on









ils / elles




Now, let's see an example you probably know already: s'appeler.


    • Je m'appelle Caroline (literally, it means "I call myself Caroline").
    • Tu t'appelles...
    • Il s'appelle...
    • Nous nous appelons... (don't forget to link nous and avons too! Like this [noo noo Zapelon]).
    • Vous vous appelez... (don't forget the mandatory link: [voo voo Zappelay]).
    • Ils s'appellent...


One last tip: you can't use a pronoun if you haven't already mentioned the noun it's supposed to replace. It's like saying "she said..." before establishing if "she" is a friend, my mother, or even the cat's mother. It will confuse the person who you are talking to and it will cloud the conversation. So sentences like Je lui dit à ma femme... (I told her to my wife) are a no-no. It has to be J'ai dit à ma femme... or, if you have already established that you were talking to your wife, you should say je lui ai dit….


Now that we've covered the basic rules, let's see which verbs are "plagued" with pronouns.


Verbs that always need a pronoun


Here is a list of verbs that always need a pronoun. It's simply a case of learning them by heart, though I wouldn't learn the whole list just yet, as some are quite obscure. Just highlight those that you find useful at this point.


se souvenir

se méfier

se fâcher






se fier


se morfondre


se rebeller


se suicider


se goinfrer

se réfugier

se trémousser

se raviser


Keep in mind that the pronoun will mirror the subject, being that they mean "myself," "yourself," "himself," etc.




Let's conjugate se fâcher (to get cross/angry) in the present tense to make sure everything is clear:


  • Je me fâche
  • Tu te fâches
  • Il se fâche
  • Nous nous fâchons
  • Vous vous fâchez
  • Ils se fâchent


Verbs that usually need a pronoun


If an action is usually performed by the subject on himself, but can also be performed on someone else, we will use a pronoun in the first case, but not in the second.


For example, I can wake up all by myself, but I can wake someone else up too. So the verb réveiller becomes se réveiller when applied to oneself.


  • je me réveille (I wake myself up).
  • je réveille les enfants (I wake someone else up = no pronoun).


Another good one is se promener (to stroll) versus promener.


  • je me promène (I have a walk for my own pleasure).
  • je promène le chien (I walk the dog = no pronoun).



This category of verbs is larger than the previous one, so here is just a small sample. Interestingly, they seem to encompass most of the grooming activities!


se réveiller

se lever

se peigner/se coiffer

se brosser

se laver

se raser

se maquiller



se promener

se baigner

se disputer

se taire

se coucher





se marier



se douter

se stationner/se garer

se battre

se noyer


In this case too, the pronoun will mirror the subject. The pronoun still means "myself," "yourself," "himself," etc. or "each other."


Deciding if a pronoun is required or not may be tricky. Let's see one useful example: Se marier (to get or to be married). However, don't worry too much about this if your French level is below C1. There are worse things than getting a pronoun wrong!


If you mean "to get married" (in the past or in the future) it will need a pronoun.




  • Nous nous marierons cet été (we will get married this summer).
  • Je me suis marié(e) en 2010 (I got married in 2010).
  • Nous nous sommes mariés dans les Caraïbes (we got married in the Caribbean islands).


However, if you mean "to be married" (I am, I was, etc.), there's no pronoun.




  • Je suis mariée (I'm married).
  • Nous sommes mariés depuis 2010 (we have been married since 2010).
  • Nous sommes mariés depuis 20 ans (we have been married for 20 years).


Verbs that don't need a pronoun or only need them in special occasions


Most verbs don't need a pronoun, thankfully.


Nevertheless, verbs that don't need pronoun may require one if an action is performed on someone else.


Before you get all worked up, let me just say that it sounds far more complex than it is. It's just normal grammar, almost like in English. Bear with me.



Donner (to give) is a verb that doesn't need a pronoun.  




  • le père Noël donne des cadeaux.


However, if you want to say that someone gave something to someone else specifically, and you don't want to repeat that person's name, you will need a pronoun.


For example:


  • "You give an example" is tu donnes un example.
  • "You give an example to the teacher" is tu donnes un example au professeur (No pronoun needed).
  • "You give me an example" is tu me donnes un exemple.


In the third case above, a pronoun was necessary in both English and French. You only had to move the pronoun to the front of the verb to make it sound correct in French. Piece of cake!


It goes without saying that verbs in this category are not reflexive or reciprocal. The pronouns reflect who's on the receiving end of the action. Therefore the pronoun will not match the subject who performs the action.


The pronouns used in this case are the same, but this time they mean "me," "you," "him" and so on.


There are also two new pronouns: lui and leur.



English equivalent




you (friendly)




him, her




you (polite or plural)






Beware: Se can only be used in conjunction with the subjects il(s), elle(s) and on. The other pronouns are not so fussy.


Now, let's see an example with the verb parler and a variety of pronouns.


  • Je te parle (I talk to you).
  • Tu lui parle (You talk to him).
  • Il se parle / elle se parle (He/she talks to himself/herself).
  • Nous vous parlons (we talk to you).
  • Vous me parlez (You talk to me).
  • Ils leur parlent (They talk to them).


By the way, if you are a Spanish or Portuguese speaker, beware! Some verbs that need a pronoun in your mother tongue may not require one in French.


For example:


  • asustarse / assustar-se (to get scared)
  • mudarse / mudar-se (to move house)
  • arrepentirse / arrepender-se (to regret)
  • olvidarse / esquecer-se de (to forget)


The exception that proves the rule


Despite my best effort to drill into you that all pronouns go before the verb, this is not entirely correct. Some pronouns do go after the verb, but this is the exception. This includes:


Exception #1: Giving orders (verbs conjugated in the impératif)




  • "call me" is still appelle-moi.
  • "help us" is aide-nous.
  • "tell him / tell her" is dis-lui.


Exception #2: Verbs followed by another verb in the infinitive form


Examples: vouloir, pouvoir (and aller if used to indicate the near future).


  • "I want to talk to you" is je veux te parler.
  • "I can't tell him..." is je ne peux pas lui dire….
  • "I will give them" is je vais leur donner….


The bottom line


If a verb needs a pronoun, it will always be conjugated with être in the passé composé and conditionnel passé (instead of avoir).




  • Je me suis souvenu(e).
  • Je me suis réveillé(e).
  • Nous nous sommes disputés.


Don't forget that the past participle will need to be matched to the gender (hence the e in parentheses above, if the subject if feminine) and the quantity (hence the underlined s) of the subject.


That was a lot to take in, but that's all for today! Well done for persevering. :-)


If you would like to know more about the order of pronouns, have a look at The Blueprint of a French Sentence. There is a nice analogy with a game of poker awaiting you.


Image Sources