The most complicated part of French grammar is probably the verb system, especially when compared to English. Pronominal verbs are verbs where the pronoun “se” is put in front of the verb in the infinitive form.
Most people know this as the reflexive verb form because the action of the verb “reflects” back to the subject. Typical examples are: se lever (get up), se coucher (go to bed), se laver (wash oneself), se maquiller (put on make-up) and s’asseoir (sit). Remember that the passé composé of these verbs always requires the the auxiliary être. Here are some sample sentences:
Je me lève tous les jours à 6 h. (I get up every day at 6 a.m.)
Elle ne se maquille pas beaucoup. (She doesn’t use a lot of make-up)
Il s’est lavé les mains. (He washed his hands.)
Nous nous sommes couchés très tard. (We went to bed very late.)
There is a lot more to pronominal verbs than just the reflexive form, however. In fact, there are pronominal verbs that are not reflexive at all. And some verbs can be both reflexive and non-reflexive. Let’s look at what happens when we put se in front of faire (to do, make.)
Here is the the reflexive use of se faire.
Je me suis fait une salade. (I made myself a salad.)
Elle se fait à l’idée que la vie ne sera pas la même. (She is getting used to the idea that life will not be the same.)
Il s’est fait tout beau pour les noces. (He really made himself handsome for the wedding.)
Now let’s look at a non-reflexive use in the following forms where se faire is immediately followed by a verb.
On s’est fait dire que tout était réglé. (We were told that everything was settled.)
Je me suis fait voler la voiture. (My car was stolen.)
Il s’est fait mordre par un gros chien. (He was bitten by a big dog,)
Elle s’est fait demander son permis de conduire. (She was asked for her driver’s licence.)
On est allés au bureau pour se faire dire que le patron était sorti. (We went to the office only to be told that the boss was out.)
Ils se sont fait manger par les moustiques. (They were devoured by the mosquitoes.)
La réaction ne s’est pas fait attendre. (The response was swift.)
Looking at the English translations, you see that the se faire + verb construction is really an equivalent of a kind of passive construction. For example, se faire voir means “to be seen” as in:
Les vedettes viennent pour se faire voir. (The celebrities come to be seen.)
Obviously, there are other ways of conveying the passive construction in French, but this use of the pronominal verb se faire is very common.
Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician and language coach in French, English and Spanish. He likes to share his passion for languages and believes that anybody can learn to speak a foreign language well with the right methods and tools. He has also invented a cool visual learning tool called the Language Wall Chart Calendar that is based on his own learning experience. Reach him at email@example.com.