Unit 53 Reflexive verbs

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Main points

* Transitive verbs are used with a reflexive pronoun to indicate that the object is the same as the subject, for example: `I hurt myself’.

* Some verbs which do not normally have a person as the object can have reflexive pronouns as the object.

1 You use a reflexive pronoun after a transitive verb to indicate that the object is the same as the subject.
He blamed himself for his friend’s death.
I taught myself French.
See Unit 20 for more information on reflexive pronouns.

2 In theory, most transitive verbs can be used with a reflexive pronoun. However, you often use reflexive pronouns with the following verbs.


Sam amused himself by throwing branches into the fire.
`Can I borrow a pencil?’ – `Yes, help yourself.’
Prepare yourself for a shock.
He introduced himself to me.

3 Verbs like `dress’, `shave’, and `wash’, which describe actions that people do to themselves, do not usually take reflexive pronouns in English, although they do in some other languages. With these verbs, reflexive pronouns are only used for emphasis.
I usually shave before breakfast.
He prefers to shave himself, even with that broken arm.
She washed very quickly and rushed downstairs.
Children were encouraged to wash themselves.

4 `Behave’ does not normally take an object at all, but can take a reflexive pronoun as object.
If they don’t behave, send them to bed.
He is old enough to behave himself.

5 Some verbs do not normally have a person as object, because they describe actions that you do not do to other people. However, these verbs can have reflexive pronouns as object, because you can do these actions to yourself.

apply, compose, distance, enjoy, excel, exert, express, strain

I really enjoyed the party.
Just go out there and enjoy yourself.
She expressed surprise at the news.
Professor Dale expressed himself very forcibly.

6 When `busy’ and `content’ are used as verbs, they always take a reflexive pronoun as their direct object. They are therefore true `reflexive verbs’.
He had busied himself in the laboratory.
I had to content myself with watching the little moving lights.