French reciprocal verbs behave in many ways like reflexive verbs, and they generally translate to an action that is followed by 'each other' in English. For example, if you would like to say that people love each other, the verb in French is 's'aimer'. Aimer means 'to love', and s'aimer means 'to love each other'.
There are many reasons for which one would use a reciprocal verb. Any instance in which you want to express that more than one person is performing the same action, and that they are equal members of the action, reciprocal verbs are a good expression tool.
In order to say that a teacher and a student are talking to each other, one could say 'the teacher talks with the student, and the student talks with the teacher', but saying that they are talking with each other is much more efficient. In French, it is the same: ils se parlent is much more efficient than mentioning each talker's action separately. If the teacher were talking with the student in a teacherly manner instead of a conversational one, a reciprocal verb would not be used because the two people are not equal participants in the action.
Common French Reciprocal Verbs
The most commonly used French reciprocal verbs are listed below, with an example of how each one could be used.
- se voir (to see each other) - Ils se voient chaque semaine. (They see each other every week.)
- se téléphoner (to call each other) - Ils se téléphonent chaque soir. (They call each other every night.)
- s'écrire (to write each other) - Vous vous écrivez souvent? (Do you write to each other often?)
- se parler (to talk with each other) - Nous nous parlons de la politique. (We talk to each other about politics.)
- se dire (to say to each other) Ils se disent quelques mots d'amour. (They say words of love to each other.)
- s'aimer (to love each other) - Ils s'aiment beaucoup. (They love each other very much.)
- s'adorer" (to adore each other) - Vous vous adorez.'' (You are very fond of each other.)
- se promettre (to promise each other) Nous nous promettons de vivre ensemble (We promise each other to live together.)
- se détester (to detest each other) - Nous nous détestons depuis longtemps. (We have disliked each other for a long time.)
- se disputer (to fight with each other) Ils se disputent au sujet des finances (They are fighting about financial matters.)
Using Reciprocal Pronouns
The reciprocal pronouns are identical to the reflexive pronouns; however, reciprocal verbs are only used in the plural. For this reason, there is no usage of the reflexive pronouns me and te. The reflexive pronouns used with reciprocal verbs are se, nous and vous. The latter two pronouns are easy to match with their subject because the pronoun is identical to the subject (e.g. vous vous aimez/'you love each other'). The pronoun se is used with the plural subject ils or elles, depending on whether one is talking about a group of men or women. Ils is used much more often because whenever there is a mixed group of men and women, the masculine subject ils is required.
The pronoun se is often shortened into 's' in spelling, as well as in pronunciation. This pronoun is shortened into a single letter in front of any verb that starts with a vowel, such as s'aimer and s'adorer.
Learning Reciprocal Verbs
Learning French reciprocals is quite simple; simply insert the reflexive/reciprocal pronoun before the verb that you would like to express is mutual. If you would add 'each other' in English, this is an occasion for a reciprocal verb. This simple rule, plus the application of the reflexive pronoun se, nous, or vous will have you correctly using reciprocal verbs in French in no time at all.