I have heard the following sentence in the TV series Marseille:

  • Je me fais harceler de toutes parts.

Context: The president of a soccer club has just died and the club's financial director is being questioned by his employees about what will happen to them under the new direction of the president's son. Under pressure, the financial director asks the son of the deceased president if he plans to sell the club during the president's wake. He is scolded by a friend of the family and then he justifies his actions with the line above.

It seems to me that the verb "faire" in the sentence conveys proactivity (i.e. he is having himself harassed, he is making people harass him). However, that does not make any sense and I guess that it expresses the passive voice instead, i.e. "se faire harceler" = "être harcelé" = to be harassed. Is that right? Is there any difference between the two French expressions?

  • I believe your second guessing is correct: there is no sense of proactivity. But I'll await a native speaker's input in case they detect any subtle difference from the grammatical passive. – Luke Sawczak Apr 17 '20 at 4:26

The turn se faire + verb is a familiar turn of phrase that can be equivalent to the passive form. It does not necessarily mean that the subject has actively caused the action to be done:

Il s'est fait voler son portefeuille.

Je me suis fait agresser.

Ils se sont fait virer du bar sans raison.

Je me suis encore fait avoir (être eu means "to be fooled")

As you can guess, in the examples above, the subject is not the "active trigger" of the action.

The meaning is the same as the standard passive form. There is a only a difference in language register (the turn se faire without proactivity is more familiar and rather fits in spoken French), and the turn "se faire" (very) slightly insists more on the action of the verb.

For an extensive discussion on this topic, see here


"être harcelé" et "se faire harceler" are both passive.

But "se faire harceler" is stronger, and more informal.
The meaning is also a little different.

Je suis harcelée = It's right now. Someone tells me bad things -> Je suis harcelée.

Quand je marche dans la rue, je me fais harceler -> It's an habit, or a specific tense.

"se faire..." put more the emphasis on the action, and "être... on the state.

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