se souvenir / se rappeler

In common conversation "se rappeler" and "se souvenir" are most of the time used with "de" after, and most of French people use undistinctly one for the other. So most of the people won't even notice if you do the same.

That been said, you can stop your reading now.

Or if you want to look at it through a microscope, let's have fun!
"Se rappeler de" is mostly used for action you have to do( or you'll have to do), and for relatively short term and factual memories:
"Rappelle-toi de jeter la poubelle demain matin!" (Don't forget to take the trash out tomorrow morning)
To a policeman who shows you a picture: "Je me rappelle de ce type. Il est passé hier à la boutique." (I remember that guy. I went to the shop yesterday.)
"Se souvenir de" is more charged with feelings, is about something you keep from a past time and/or you'll keep for ever (think "souvenir shop" and you'll get the concept):
"Je me souviens de ce petit village sur les hauteurs d'Annecy" (I remember this little village upon Annecy.)
"Souvenez-vous de ces héros morts pour la France". (Remember those heroes who give their lives for France.)
Because French people concider feelings, poetry, history more important than your to do list, "se souvenir" can be concidered a little more formal than "se rappeler" and "se rappeler" a little more childish than "se souvenir". (microscope)
The consequence is: most of the time it won't matter if you make the grammatical mistake to use "de" between "se rappeler" and something else than a verb or a pronoun because your speach is not formal enough. Like asking something by adding a question mark at the end of an affirmation. ("Il est quelle heure?")
If you tell your students "se rappeler de" can be followed only by verbs and pronouns, pray for them to never go to France. Because as soon they do, you'll look like a fool. (even if I don't pretend you're grammaticaly wrong)
With those two verbs, if the thing that is supposed to be remembered is describe by a proposition, "de" will be replaced by "que":
"Je me rappelle que tu es allergique au chat." (I remember you have cat allergy.)
"Je me souviens que j'étais heureuse à l'époque." (I remember I was happy then.)

Using them without "de" can build a poetic effect, to emphasize the feeling (positive or negative) for a time, a place, an element of decor or a past action (very Proust style):
Souviens-toi nos jeunes années. (Remember when we were young.)
Je me souviens la pluie. Je me souviens la faim. Et le désespoir, dans cette tranchée. (I remember the rain. I remember the hunger. And the dispair, in that trench.)
Je me rappelle mon petit chat. (I remember my kitten) Here, the use of "se rappeler" is to give a childish sound.
In those sentenses, the absence of "de" put closer the subject and the source of feeling, litteraly removing the last thing between the person and the vivacity of the memory. It make a poetical point and in French that's more important than any grammatical law.
"Rappeler", without "de" could mean something completely different:
"Rappelle-moi, s'il te plait." (Call me back, please.)
"Il me rappelle dans une heure." (He's going to call me back in an hour.)
"GM a rappelé 1,6 millions de véhicules pour corriger un défaut. (GM commanded the return of 1.6 millions of cars to the factories to fix a problem.)
[Sorry for the quality of my English. Please be gentle when you correct me.]


Elise B.

French native tutor

50+ hours
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