FR: se laver - meaning of reflexive

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Atlus, Jan 23, 2007.

  1. Atlus Junior Member

    I am confused, very confused.
    What does this actually mean??

    For instance, use laver (to wash)

    Je me lave
    Tu te laves
    Il se lave
    Nous nous lavons
    vous vous lavez
    ils se lavent

    Could domeone please give me a definition for each? It would be greatly appreciated. Merci beaucoup.
  2. fluxxii New Member

    English: USA
    Basically, it means I wash myself, you wash yourself, he washes himself, and so on. Reflexive verbs (which confused the heck out of me when I first started learning them) are basically actions that the subject performs on his or her own self.
  3. Sponge78 Junior Member

    English - London

    I would like to know how these phrases work in your mind.

    non PP i understand eg;

    Je me lave

    ...although 'I' and 'me' is the same person, 'I' is the subject and 'me' is the object. So it flows like this; I wash myself..


    Je me suis lavé

    ..since être (and not avoir) is used it implies to me that the phrase works the other way around,

    eg; I am washed ('I' is now the object), by myself ('me' is now the subject).

    So my question is do french people feel these PP reflexive phrases the other way around (like I am suggesting), eg, I am washed by myself, and not, I washed myself ?

    Last edited: Nov 19, 2008
  4. janpol

    janpol Senior Member

    France - français
    "elle s'est lavée" = accord avec le COD AVANT comme si l'auxiliaire était AVOIR : accord avec "SE (s') donc E
    "elle s'est lavé les mains" = maintenant, le COD est "les mains", il est après, donc pas d'accord : lavé
  5. dan144556 Senior Member

    English - US
    I don't think you really answered his question, Janpol...

    But what I would ask you now, Sponge, is what the difference is between "I am washed by myself" and "I washed myself" semantically speaking. I don't think there really is my advice to you is to think about the French language not as it corresponds to English grammatical structures, but as it corresponds to semantic meaning.
  6. Sponge78 Junior Member

    English - London
    Ok thanks for your replies, maybe I'm not good enough at French yet to understand it properly.

    I just thought there was always a 'flow/direction of meaning', eg, from subject to object, from word to word (even if 2 different words je/me represent the same thing) etc etc.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2008
  7. bloomiegirl

    bloomiegirl Senior Member

    New York
    US English
    Hello Sponge... You're on the right track regarding se laver.
    In the present tense: je me lave : I wash (myself)

    But for the passé composé, reflexive verbs use the auxiliary "être" instead of "avoir":
    je me suis lavé(e)
    : I washed (myself)

    "Je m'ai:cross: lavé" would be wrong, grammatically (just as "j'ai:cross: allé" would be wrong, grammatically). But using "être" as the auxiliary verb doesn't turn "je me suis lavé" into a passive structure. The subject of the French sentence -- grammatically and semantically -- is still "je."
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2008
  8. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I think you fell victim here of a misunderstanding which frequently happens to English speakers. The fact that the auxiliary être is used instead of avoir does not imply passive meaning. French uses two different auxiliaries to construct the passé composé which corresponds to the English present perfect (though the meanings differ somewhat): avoir for transitive and être for intransitive and reflexive verbs. There is no semantic difference associated with this. In practice, there is no risk of confusion because passive voice makes sense only for transitive verbs in French. In English there would be a potential for confusion because English passive constructions also work with indirect objects (e.g. he is given the book). In French, such a construct would not be possible.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2008
  9. janpol

    janpol Senior Member

    France - français
    d'autres exemples :
    les 2 phrases
    1 - Il est sorti par la fenêtre
    et 2 - L'OM est dominé par l'OL (les équipes de football de Marseille et de Lyon !...)
    semblent avoir la même structure : "Sujet - auxiliaire ETRE au présent - participe passé + par + nom"
    Il n'en est rien : 1 - "est sorti" = verbe actif au passé composé + Compl. Circonst.
    2 - "est dominé" = verbe passif au présent + Compl. d'agent
    Ceci dit, on peut expliquer "Je me suis lavé" au moyen de la phrase passive "J'ai été lavé par moi-même". Dans cette phrase (correcte mais que personne ne dirait spontanément :) le sujet et le C. d'agent se confondent bien entendu en une seule et même personne.
  10. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    Semantically speaking, no.
    Because unlike English, where you can only use the verb "have" to form a past tense (like in "I have washed", meaning (more or less) "I washed"), French can also use the verb "être" for some verbs.
    "I have eaten" is "j'ai mangé", but "I have fallen" is "je suis tombé".
    You are right to point that "Je suis lavé" also can mean "I am washed" (i.e. a passive present tense), but The French are also accustomed to understand it as a past tense meaning "I have washed".
    And the "Me" part still means "myself".

    Note : Little children often wrongly say "Je m'ai lavé"...
  11. dan144556 Senior Member

    English - US
    Absolutely right. You explained it better than I could.

    Now, if I might give a historical note about this discussion...keep in mind that what follows is purely historical and is not even close to the current language... :)

    Actually English used to use "to be" as well as "to have" to form the past in the same way as French...the most famous example is the Christmas carol "Joy to the world, the Lord is come." Not "has come"..."is come." This text was written in 1719. There are some other examples in the King James Bible (1611) which is a good source for Early Modern English...

    And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. (Isaiah 21:9b)

    The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. (Psalm 118:2)

    And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken. (1 Samuel 4:22)

    For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces, to cut off the children from without, and the young men from the streets. (Jeremiah 9:21)

    Hope you found that interesting! :)
  12. Sponge78 Junior Member

    English - London
    Thanks soo much for the replies.

    It is now clear to me that (as always) 'je' is the subject and 'me' the object.

    So, 'me' is the object of 'being washed' (but in the PAST, (not passive present)), by subject 'je'.

    dan144556. That historical note is fascinating.

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