Suppose I want to translate "I pinched myself". I see that "to pinch" in French is "pincer" , and that there (more or less) isn't a "se pincer" entry.

I know that a typical pronominal verb, such as "se demander", uses être instead of avoir when in the passé composé. So, "Je me suis demandé" is correct, and "Je m'ai demandé" is incorrect.

So, "I pinch myself" would be translated by "Je me pince". But, since there is no "se pincer" entry in the dictionary, I'm not sure which of these two is correct: "Je me suis pincé", or "Je m'ai pincé"?


All verbs that use the reflexive pronoun are pronominal, and all use être for the auxiliary in compound tenses.

Ad-hoc pronominals like se pincer can be formed with pretty much any transitive verb and function the same grammatically.

The reason a pronominal verb appears in the dictionary is usually that its meaning is not completely transparent given the meaning of the base verb, or it has an idiomatic sense on top of the literal one. So it's a semantic distinction, not a grammatical one.

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    Regardless of the existence of the verb in the french dictionary in its pronominal form, you could use it with a reflexive pronoun in most cases. For example, "I eat myself" (don't do this at home kids) would be "Je me mange" which is grammatically correct, although you won't find "se manger" anywhere in the dictionary. – Oddrigue Dec 17 '19 at 15:15
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    @Oddrigue C'est ce que j'ai dit – Luke Sawczak Dec 17 '19 at 19:55

It's je me suis pincé. As soon as you use a reflexive pronoun, it has to follow the normal conjugation rules.

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    As opposed to "je m'ai pincé" which would not be normal? It may improve the answer to remind the actual rules at play, as Luke did. – Pierre Arlaud Dec 17 '19 at 9:21

In addition to the already existing excellent answers, maybe does your confusion come from the definition of pronominal.

Pronominal doesn't just mean that a pronoun is used along the verb, but that this pronoun represent the subject (i.e. is a reflexive pronoun).

When it is not the case, the pronoun is just a regular complement and the auxiliary is avoir with most verbs, including pincer and demander:

J'ai pincé "toi" → Je t'ai pincé.

J'ai demandé "à vous" → Je vous ai demandé.

On the other hand, when the pronoun is also the subject, only être can be used:

J'ai pincé "moi" → Je me suis pincé.

Vous avez demandé "à vous" → Vous vous êtes demandé.

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