Nettoyer: Meaning & Conjugation

Instructor: Emily France

Emily has experience teaching English and French and has a master's degree in International Studies

In this lesson, we will learn how to conjugate the verb 'nettoyer,' which means 'to clean,' in present tense. We will also learn some useful phrases and sentences with this verb, and how to use it as a command.

Nettoyer Meaning

Henri is planning to do le grand ménage du printemps (luh grahn may-nahzh doo pran-tahm, spring cleaning) and asks his neighbor, Colette, for advice.

Henri: Qu'est-ce qu'on nettoie pour le grand ménage du printemps chez toi? (What does one clean for spring cleaning at your house?)

Colette: Nous nettoyons toute la maison en profondeur. (We deep clean the whole house.)

Henri: Quelles pièces de la maison nettoyez-vous? (Which rooms of the house do you clean?)

Colette: Je nettoie la cuisine, mon mari nettoie la salle de bains, et les enfants nettoient leurs chambres. (I clean the kitchen, my husband cleans the bathroom, and the kids clean their bedrooms.)

Colette is ready to clean

As you can see, Colette and her family are planning to do a lot of nettoyage (neh-twah-yahzh, cleaning) and will definitely need to make use of the verb nettoyer (neh-twah-yay). In its most common usage, nettoyer means 'to clean.' Nettoyer can have a few different (but related) meanings as well, including:

  • clean up, as in nettoyer la chambre (to clean up the room)
  • cleanse, as in nettoyer le visage (to cleanse the face)
  • sanitize, as in nettoyer la blessure (sanitize the wound)

Nettoyer Conjugation in Present Tense

Nettoyer is a regular -er verb, meaning that the verb endings for each pronoun are the same as other er verbs like parler (to speak) or aimer (to like), with one key exception: the y in the verb root nettoy- changes to an i when conjugated for all pronouns except for nous and vous. Let's go over the conjugation of this verb in present tense to see this in action:

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Translation
je nettoie zhuh neh-twah I clean/am cleaning
tu nettoies too neh-twah you (singular, informal) clean/are cleaning
il/elle/on nettoie eel/ehl/ohn neh-twah he/she/one cleans/is cleaning
nous nettoyons noo neh-twah-yohn we clean/are cleaning
vous nettoyez voo neh-twah-yay you (formal or plural) clean/are cleaning
ils/elles nettoient eel/ehl neh-twah they clean/are cleaning

Using Nettoyer for Body Parts

When cleaning something on your body, like your face, hair, or teeth, nettoyer becomes reflexive, meaning you add a direct object that matches the pronoun to emphasize the fact that the verb relates to you specifically. For instance, instead of saying je nettoie le visage (I am cleaning the face), which could refer to anyone's face, you would say je me nettoie le visage (I am cleaning MY face). The French prefer to use definite articles for parts of the body instead of possessive pronouns like mon or ma (my), so making the verb reflexive helps make it clear whose body part you are referring to. Here is the chart for all pronouns:

Reflexive Conjugation Pronunciation
je me nettoie zhuh muh neh-twah
tu te nettoies too tuh neh-twah
il/elle/on se nettoie eel/ehl/ohn suh neh-twah
nous nous nettoyons noo noo neh-twah-yohn
vous vous nettoyez voo voo neh-twah-yay
ils/elles se nettoient eel/ehl seh neh-twah

The cat is cleaning its paw

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