4

English can use a lot of verbs in a reflexive context. Even ones that usually are used intransitively.

I laugh myself silly.

However, it seems like there are very few – perhaps no – verbs that ONLY work in a reflexive context.

Are there any?

  • Wikipedia is proven wrong by her own brother Wiktionary. – RegDwigнt Nov 12 '13 at 14:13
  • @RegDwigнt Hmmm... the point 2) gives an example for a reflexive use while the two quotations for transitive use English that is more than 200 years old... I don't find that very convincing. language changes so maybe it is solely reflexive as of today – Emanuel Nov 12 '13 at 14:26
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    The OED gives six definitions for the verb perjure, and in only one of them is it reflexive. Two citations showing non-reflexive use are this from 1985 ‘She was not present on this occasion . . .so already she is perjured because she has said on oath that she witnessed this scene’ and this from 2000 ‘Refusing to make a promise by which we cannot abide is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is far more honorable than swearing an oath, only later to perjure it.’ – Barrie England Nov 12 '13 at 15:08
  • Okay, I am convinced. I'll edit the question and ask if there are ANY reflexive only verbs in English – Emanuel Nov 12 '13 at 15:33
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    [cont'd] So "I have to concentrate" = "ich muß mich konzentrieren" ("I have to concentrate myself") = "я должен концентрироваться" ("I have to concentrateself"); "she has to concentrate" = "sie muß sich konzentrieren" ("she has to concentrate herself") = "она должна концентрироваться" ("she has to concentrateself"); and "we have to concentrate" = "wir müssen uns konzentrieren" ("we have to concentrate ourselves") = "мы должны концентрироваться" ("we have to concentrateself"). Quite different approaches. And while Russian is only a cousin, German and English are siblings. Good question, +1. – RegDwigнt Nov 12 '13 at 21:39
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Following are verbs that, according to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (p1488), have "a reflexive as the only (or virtually the only) type of object permitted":

absent (from), avail (of), busy, comport, ingratiate

Collins Cobuild English Grammar (p146) adds:

pride, content

calling them "true reflexive verbs" that "must be used with a reflexive pronoun".

  • 2
    The mere inclusion of the last item on this list does not content me. – Brian Donovan Jul 4 '15 at 19:25
  • It's limited to the content ... with construction. – John Lawler Mar 1 '18 at 3:03
1

Behave yourself.

Devote yourself to understanding.

Devote your efforts to understanding.

The crowd at the Trump rally behaved well this time.

He saw himself in the mirror.

He saw the results.

"See" is obviously a verb that's usually used non-reflexively, but the reflexive pronoun is used when the object and subject refer to the same person or thing.

"Devote" and "behave" can be used without a reflexive pronoun, but when they are used with a reflexive pronoun, it's not because the object and subject refer to the same thing; rather, those verbs with reflexive objects seem to be phrasal verbs.

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