I'm asking when do I use possessive pronouns (like mine, yours etc.) and when reflexive (like myself, yourself, himself etc.)

When do I use it and how to use it? this was answered by someone saying that the reflexive is used to refer to the subject of the sentence's verb, either as the direct or indirect object of the verb and the Possessive pronouns are used to refer to something that belongs to you.

My question is how would I know which correct sentence structure to use when saying this in french

Il se brosse les dents( using reflexive)

Il se brosse ses dents( using possessive)

3 Answers 3


Possessive pronoms are not always used when talking about something happening to one or more body parts.

Il s'est cassé la jambe : he broke his leg. Il se frotte les mains : he is brushing his hands (together) Il se gratte le nez : he is scratching his nose. il a la peau rouge : His skin is red

The absence of context here implies that we're talking about his body parts, not someone else's


Il prend soin de ses cheveux/ses dents/ses mains : He takes care of his hair/his teeth/his hands

The presence of 'de' in the last sentence then needs a possessive to clarify which hair/teeth/hands he is taking care of.


Il se brosse les dents is the usual sentence you'll heard.

Il se brosse son dents is doubly incorrect.1

First the possessive must agree with dents so that should be ses dents (or sa dent if he only has one left ;-) ) and second, se brosse already tells this is about his own teeth so ses is redundant.

You might have said:

Il brosse ses dents.

although in that last sentence, it is not 100% guaranteed his is brushing his own teeth. The context might tell he is brushing someone else's teeth, or an animal teeth.

1 The original (i.e. unedited) question was proposing son dents.

  • 1
    This answer (as well as Rémy's) corroborates my own experience and education as well -- that actions on one's own body most often use the reflexive + def. art. construction.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:49
  • (P.S. Note that Frank's edit to the question obviates your "son/ses" remark; should update answer)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 1:40
  • 1
    @LukeSawczak Yes, I hesitate to revert the edit, the mistake being arguably part of the question substance, not its form. Only the latter should be corrected. Unfortunately, the OP left the site immediately (or never joined it) so is not there to sort this out.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 4:53
  • Agreed with that view of things, in any case.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 6:34

Both "il se brosse les dents" and "il brosse ses dents" are correct, no reason to use one over the other.

The closest example I can find in english would be like "he is brushing his teeth" and "he is brushing himself on the teeth". Even if the latter is not correct in English it corresponds to "il se brosse les dents". Since himself or se already specifies that it is about him you don't need to specify again that it is his teeth.

But when you said "he's brushing his teeth" "il brosse ses dents" you have to specify it.

  • Bienvenue sur French Language. Il est préférable de rédiger de façon lisible en respectant la ponctuation et les conventions typographiques (« guillemets » ou « > » pour les citations entre autres). Prends le temps de comprendre les conventions (cliquer sur le « ? » et ensuite « advanced help » la prochaine fois. Par ailleurs ta réponse n'apporte rien de plus aux réponses déjà données.
    – None
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 12:51

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