A reflexive verb generally refers to an action that reflects back on the subject (something you do to yourself or to each other). You will recognize a reflexive verb in the dictionary by the reflexive pronoun se (oneself) preceding the infinitive, as in se laver (to wash oneself).
Reflexive verbs usually agree… with themselves! That is, the past participle agrees in gender and number with both the subject (such as je) and the object (such as me) at the same time. For example:
Ce matin, je me suis réveillée avec le coq.
This morning, I woke up with the rooster.Play Caption
In the example above, we assume that the subject pronoun je and the reflexive pronoun me are referring to Patricia, the speaker, so the past participle réveillé (woke up) takes an -e at the end to become feminine.
On the other hand, in the example below, the husband wakes up his wife. In this case, the verb réveiller (to wake [someone] up) is no longer reflexive.
Il a même réveillé sa femme qui dormait.
He even woke up his wife, who was sleeping.
Caption 52, Dao Evolution - Noël pour les sans-abrisPlay Caption
In this case, you use the auxiliary avoir (to have) because he isn't waking up himself—he's waking up his wife.
Many reflexive verbs like se réveiller can also be non-reflexive (without the se). The verb dire (to say, to tell), for instance, can be used both ways:
C'est ce que je me suis dit.
That's what I told myself.
Caption 52, Claire et Philippe Je suis en retardPlay Caption
C'est ce que j'ai dit à ma sœur.
That's what I said to my sister.
The verb se dire also belongs to a category of reflexive verbs whose past participles never require agreement. We call these verbs intransitive, because their reflexive pronouns act as indirect objects, not direct objects. You can tell that a reflexive verb is intransitive because its non-reflexive form is usually followed by the preposition à (to). For example: se parler (to speak to each other, to speak to oneself), parler à quelqu’un (to speak to someone). For a complete list of these verbs, click here.
When a reflexive verb is intransitive, the se acts as an indirect object pronoun and thus indicates that the verb doesn’t require agreement:
Ils se sont parlé tous les jours.
They spoke to each other every day.
When a reflexive verb, whether transitive or intransitive, is followed by a direct object, the past participle also doesn't agree:
Ils se sont lavé les mains.
They washed their hands.
Because there's already a direct object in this sentence (les mains), the reflexive pronoun se is “demoted” from its direct object status and acts as an indirect object. And since the direct object is placed after the verb, no agreement is necessary.
However, if the verb is not followed by a direct object, the past participle agrees with the subject and the reflexive pronoun, as we discussed earlier:
Ils se sont lavés.
They washed (themselves).
On the other hand, if a reflexive verb is followed by an indirect object, agreement does occur:
Mes grand-parents, ils se sont beaucoup occupés de moi.
My grandparents, they looked after me a lot.Play Caption
You add an -s at the end of occupé (looked after) to agree with ils (they, masculine plural). The indirect object de moi (after me) doesn’t affect anything.
That about does it for our suite of lessons on the passé composé! It’s a lot to take in, so in case you’re not quite "in agreement" with all these rules yet, here is a summary:
• Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) don't agree in gender and number with the subject, unless a direct object appears before the verb.
• Non-reflexive verbs conjugated with the auxiliary être (to be) always agree with the subject.
• Reflexive verbs are conjugated with être and usually agree with the subject, unless the verb is intransitive or a direct object appears after the verb.
In Part 3, we explored the passé composé of third-group verbs whose infinitives end in -ir with a present participle ending in -ant. In this lesson, we will discuss the remaining third-group verbs, whose infinitives end in -oir, like vouloir (to want), and verbs ending in -re, like comprendre (to understand).
Like irregular -ir verbs mentioned in our previous lesson, most -oir and -re verbs also have a past participle ending in -u, but, of course, there are a few exceptions which we’ll discuss further on.
First, let’s take a look at third-group verbs with an infinitive ending in -oir, which have a regular past participle ending in -u, as in voulu (wanted):
Hier, j'ai voulu me rendre au travail.
Yesterday, I wanted to get to work.
Caption 16, Amal et Caroline - JuronsPlay Caption
The past participle voulu (wanted) is built on the regular infinitive stem voul- to which you add the ending -u.
The verb falloir (to have to) works in much the same way, with a regular past participle fallu (had to):
Il a fallu que je fouille pour apprendre la vérité!
I had to search to find out the truth!Play Caption
It’s worth noting that falloir (to have to) is an impersonal verb that only exists in the third person. It simply expresses a need or necessity.
So far so good, but as always, there are exceptions. Verbs like savoir (to know) have an irregular past participle that is not built on a regular stem. Its past participle is su (known):
Non mais j'ai toujours su que j'avais du goût.
No, but I always knew that I had taste.
Caption 52, Elisa et Mashal - Les fringuesPlay Caption
Other verbs also have very short past participles of just one syllable. Pouvoir (to be able to) becomes pu (was able to) in the past tense:
Et elle a pu rentrer
And she was able to get in
Caption 45, Amal et Caroline - Quartier du LouvrePlay Caption
The same thing happens with devoir (to have to), which becomes dû (had to):
Et en fait, ils ont dû tout simplement arrêter
And in fact, they simply had to stop
Caption 34, Lionel L - Le "Canard" a 100 ansPlay Caption
Did you notice the circumflex accent in ils ont dû (they had to)? This tiny accent is the only thing that differentiates dû from the indefinite article du (some). Accents sometimes make a big difference!
So, to sum up, the past participles of savoir, pouvoir, and devoir are su, pu, and dû (don’t forget the circumflex!).
Now let’s look at some -re verbs with a regular past participle, more specifically verbs that end in -endre, like vendre (to sell), which becomes vendu (sold):
Et donc, euh... la propriétaire a vendu son appartement.
And so, uh... the landlady sold her apartment.
Caption 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCFPlay Caption
Verbs like descendre (to go down) and défendre (to defend) have past participles that rhyme with vendu (sold): descendu (went down), défendu (defended).
dont le niveau était descendu de cent mètres.
the level of which had dropped one hundred meters.Play Caption
But this isn't the case for all verbs ending in -endre. Some of these have an irregular past participle that ends in -is instead of -u. For example, prendre (to take) becomes pris (take) in the past tense:
Pourquoi est-ce que tu n'as pas pris le bon train vers, euh... Versailles
Why didn't you take the right train toward, uh... Versailles
Caption 37, Claire et Philippe - Je suis en retardPlay Caption
Incidentally, all the derivatives of prendre, like apprendre (to learn), surprendre (to surprise), reprendre (to take back) follow the same pattern. Just take out the ending -prendre and tack on -pris to form the past participles appris (learned), surpris (surprised), repris (took back), etc.
Similarly, the past participle of mettre (to put) is mis (put), and its derivatives follow the sampe pattern: promettre (to promise) > promis (promised), admettre (to admit) > admis (admitted). The past participle of promettre is easy to remember, since promis is close to “promise” in English.
Les syndicats ont promis d'intensifier la mobilisation jusqu'à mardi prochain
The unions have promised to intensify their mobilization until next Tuesday
Caption 23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à Lille - Part 2Play Caption
Finally, another subgroup of verbs whose infinitives end in -ire, like dire (to say, tell), tend to have a past participle ending in -it or -is, like dit (said, told):
Comme je vous l'ai dit...
As I've told you...
Caption 41, Adrien - Rue des MartyrsPlay Caption
Comme nous l'avons dit, irregular verbs are legion in the passé composé. The world of verbs is filled with surprises and peculiarities. To help you master these verbs, click here for a list of common irregular third-group verbs.