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According to page 269 of "Advanced French Grammar" (by Monique L'Huiller), some verbs only exist in the pronominal form. One of the listed verbs is "se fier (à qn/qch)" (to trust (sb/sth)). And indeed, when I look up "fier" in WR dictionary, I see that there is no entry for "fier" as a verb, though there are entries for "se fier".

How can I tell whether the pronoun "se" is a direct object pronoun, or an indirect object pronoun? (This can matter for agreement purposes. For example, is it "Elles se sont fié" or "Elles se sont fiées"?)

Note: a related (and more difficult) question is here: Direct/Indirect object switching in reflexive verbs , but it didn't seem to get an answer!

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Se fier is what is called verbe essentiellement pronominal ("essentially" pronominal verb, i.e. it appears only in pronominal form and can only be used with se, me, ... ). You will find a rather long list of "essentially" pronominal verbs here.

With those verbs the reflexive pronoun (se, me, te, etc...) has no syntactic function in relation to the verb: it is neither a direct nor an indirect object. The rule for those verbs is that the agreement is always with the subject.

  • Ils se sont fiés à leur mère.
  • Elle s'est fiée à ses parents.
  • Ils se sont souvenus de leur mésaventure1.

The BDL has a list of examples. You can go by the meaning to know if a verb is "essentially" pronominal, by checking if it has an object: Ils ont souvenus qui ? is impossible to answer2. If in doubt just check with a list. It can be tricky, French kids often make mistakes when using and agreeing pronominal verbs, so be patient, one learns as one goes along.


1 Se souvenir is not on the DBL list (probably no complete) but it is an "essentially" pronominal verb.
2 Compare with Elle s'est coiffée where you can ask the question: elle a coiffé qui ?

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The fact there is no verb "fier" in WR is due to the fact that the transitive use of this verb is not found any more, it's too old; but you will find it in a big dictionary, such as TLFi.

To tell what is the function of the word "se" you must consider whether there is a preposition used with the verb. If there is one then the function is COI, otherwise it is COD.

  • Ils se parlent souvent. (parler à qqn, therefore COI)
  • Ils se voient souvent. (voir qqn, therefore COD)

This has nothing to do with your example, though. The agreement is always necessary when the auxiliary is "être" except for pronominal verbs when the COD is after the verb and when there is a COI (ref.).

In the case of "se fier" the agreement is applied; however this string is not sufficient for making up a sentence, you must have a complement introduced by "à".

Here are cases of "se" as COI (you should have found them in the "obs" reference above).

Examples of "se" as COI:

  • Ils se sont plu. (plaire à qqn)
  • Ils se sont déplu dans cet appartement. (déplaire à qqn)
  • Elles se sont ri de son erreur. (se rire de qqn)

There is however the following case in which the function of "se" in the second sentence is not usual (ref.); it is called COS (complément d'objet seconde). There are two "compléments d'objet" , "les mains" being COD.

  • Ils se sont lavés. (action done on the subject, therefore there is agreement)
  • Ils se sont lavé les mains. (COD after)

Here is a reminder on the agreement of past participles used with "avoir", the rule being that agreement is necessary when the COD is placed before the verb.

  • Les oiseaux qu'ils avaient vus étaient des flamants roses. (agreement)
  • C'était des grues; ils les avaient vues avec leurs jumelles. (agreement, antecedent of "les" is "grues" (bird, feminine))
  • Ils avaient vu les flamants roses dans le marais mais ne savaient pas ce que c'était parce qu'ils étaient trop loin. (no agreement, the COD is after the verb)

"Elle s'est nui ", "Elles se sont promis de se revoir", "Ils se sont écrit tous les jours", "Elle s'est coupé les cheveux"

Here is the beginning of the entry for "fier" in the TLFi.

    1. Usuel. [Suivi d'un compl. prép. introd. par à, dans, en, sur (littér.)]

You should get used to the abreviations.

  • compl. : complément -prép. : préposition
  • littér. : littéraire (in the literature, not everyday language)
  • introd. : introduit

It is the same for "parler" (TLFi); look up "II B".

It can be time consuming to go through the several lignes of an entry but the information is often somewhere among them; you must scan the entries carefully.

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  • The grammar book I'm reading says that sometimes the past participle has no agreement even when the auxillary is être:, and gives the following examples: "Elle s'est nui_ ", "Elles se sont promis_ de revoir", "Ils se sont écrit_ tous les jours", "Elle s'est coupé_ les cheveux"
    – silph
    Dec 8 '20 at 15:51
  • You wrote "you must consider whether there is a preposition used with the verb". But with verbs that only exist in a pronomial form, will a good dictionary tell me what preposition would be used? That is, If I'm curious about "se parler", I can look up "parler" and see that it is "parler à qqn". But if I'm curious about "se fier" (or any other verb that only exists in the pronominal form), there is no "fier" to look up!
    – silph
    Dec 8 '20 at 15:54
  • @silph There is no agreement when the complement is a COI. I made a modification with some additions.
    – LPH
    Dec 8 '20 at 16:49

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