Use of être/avoir for non-reflexive verbs that use reflexive pronouns

JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Use of être/avoir for non-reflexive verbs that use reflexive pronouns

Do non-reflexive verbs used in the past tense with a reflexive pronoun use être or avoir?

For example, if the above sentence "Les deux chiens se fixèrent avec méfiance" is put in the past tense, do we use être with the verb "fixer" (-->"Les deux chiens se sont fixées avec méfiance")?

Or, am I asking the wrong question? In other words, in French perhaps there is no such thing as verbs that are "non-reflexive." Instead, is it that case that any verb used with a reflexive pronoun automatically becomes a reflexive verb, which means the rule regarding use of être in forming the past tense applies?

Asked 9 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi John,

If I have understood your question correctly, the verb 'se fixer' is reflexive, so it will use the auxiliary verb 'être'. Here, it conveys a reciprocal action.

But if you used the verb 'fixer' on its own , it would use 'avoir' in the past tense -

La dame m'a fixé/e avec un air de méfiance The lady stared at me , with a look of mistrust

Hope this helps!

AdrianC1Kwiziq community member

I had this question too. The point of the lesson is the semantic *distinction* between reflexive and reciprocal. (Did the boys bite themselves or each other?) So it's a bit confusing just to say that reflexive verbs take être! 

I take it the answer is that reflexive and reciprocal verbs both take être? (Elsewhere I see them described as two kinds of "pronominal" verbs, all of which take être.)

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Adrian, 

Verbs like s'habiller, se lever etc are called pronominal in French , it means that they have a extra pronoun, a reflexive pronoun.

I believe the general term to describe them is 'reflexive verbs' in English whether they are conveying reciprocal, reflexive, or just used idioms ( se passer = to happen).

There are lots of reflexive verbs in French and the important thing is that they all take the auxiliary 'être'.

In the case of - 

les chiens se sont mordus

you would assume that the dogs bit each other.

In the case of boys, you would also assume that they bit each other and not themselves in a group in a kind of wierd cultish way, so again it's all to do with context.

Hope this helps!

Use of être/avoir for non-reflexive verbs that use reflexive pronouns

Do non-reflexive verbs used in the past tense with a reflexive pronoun use être or avoir?

For example, if the above sentence "Les deux chiens se fixèrent avec méfiance" is put in the past tense, do we use être with the verb "fixer" (-->"Les deux chiens se sont fixées avec méfiance")?

Or, am I asking the wrong question? In other words, in French perhaps there is no such thing as verbs that are "non-reflexive." Instead, is it that case that any verb used with a reflexive pronoun automatically becomes a reflexive verb, which means the rule regarding use of être in forming the past tense applies?

Sign in to submit your answer

Don't have an account yet? Join today

Ask a question

Find your French level for FREE

Test your French to the CEFR standard

Find your French level
Getting that for you now.