He wounded himself.

He pinched himself.

He stabbed himself.

He looked at himself.

In all these cases the action proceeds from the agent (which is also a subject) and is directed at this very agent. Let's call this phenomenon an "short-circuit action" (I am sure there should be a correct grammatical term for this). In all these cases the short-circuit actions are expressed by using '-self'.

I wonder if there are such verbs in English that would also express short-circuit action, but '-self' would not be needed then? I know there are such cases in other languages.

Can you come up with such verb?


The term you are looking for here is not "short-circuit" but reflexive.

REFLEXIVE: Grammar denoting a pronoun that refers back to the subject of the clause in which it is used, e.g., "myself"

You could substitute "self-" and "auto-" as prefixes for some verbs to get rid of the reflexive pronoun:

Rob was largely self-taught.

If you don't stop drinking you are going to auto-destruct.

  • Thanks for "auto-destruct" - that's something of the kind that I was looking for. By the way, I wasn't looking for any grammatical terms in my question. – brilliant Jan 9 '11 at 12:25
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    @brilliant: I know you weren't, but as it can't hurt to know the proper name for the concept you were trying to express I thought I would throw that in for free. – Robusto Jan 9 '11 at 12:28
  • @Robusto: Are there any hard and fast rules as to when you should use auto vs self? Rob was a self-harmer sounds more correct to me than Rob was an auto-harmer. Does it depend on the verb? – Andy F Jan 9 '11 at 12:32
  • @Andy F: I don't think there are any rules, but I usually hear "auto-" used with words derived from Latin, and "self-" used with words derived from Anglo-Saxon. But I would not want to fall on my sword defending that rule. – Robusto Jan 9 '11 at 12:37
  • @Robusto: Well, thanks for throwing this term for free, but I already knew that term, except couldn't recall it right away while asking this question. Your words "I know you weren't" seem to contradict to your previous words "The term you are looking for here is..." – brilliant Jan 9 '11 at 12:39

(BrE) Not sure if it answers your question, but we use the verb get in some of these situations:

get dressed, get washed, get ready, get lost (in the nicest possible of ways)

I live in Poland, and Polish uses reflexive verb for a lot of these functions, but we don't have that luxury.

Incidentally he suicided sounds really weird to me, and my (US) spell check doesn't like it either.

  • I agree it sounds odd, but it's not wrong :-) – John Satta Jan 9 '11 at 17:55
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    @ John Satta - Hi John, no question that it's in Merriam-Webster and it's apparently also in the OED. But it's not, for example, in Chambers Online, nor in any of the main dictionaries we use with advanced learners, so I think we have to accept its use is fairly limited. I'm also wondering if there's an AmE / BrE element here. I've never heard or seen it used in the wild. :-) – RandomIdeaEnglish Jan 9 '11 at 20:45

Here is one example:

He suicided last night.

Quoting Merriam Webster online

sui·cid·ed - sui·cid·ing
Definition of SUICIDE
intransitive verb
: to commit suicide
transitive verb
: to put (oneself) to death

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  • This is correct, but it's worth noting (for non-native speakers) that it would be more normal to say "He committed suicide" rather than "he suicided". Either would be a good answer to the original question (though the longer one is strictly a verb phrase rather than a verb :-) – psmears Jan 9 '11 at 17:19
  • @psmears - I agree, in fact even most native speakers would probably say "committed suicide", but some members of some professions use it frequently (police, medical examiners) – John Satta Jan 9 '11 at 17:54
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    In fact, of the over 15000 incidences of suicide in COCA, not one was used as a verb. A usage so rare as to be verging on the ungrammatical. – nohat Jan 9 '11 at 18:47
  • @nohat - sorry, what is COCA please? – John Satta Jan 9 '11 at 18:59
  • @John the Corpus of Contemporary American English: americancorpus.org – nohat Jan 9 '11 at 19:26

There are several verb where the self is implied if no other person is specified, as in:

He dressed.

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  • Also, "He washed" – Rob Weir Jan 9 '11 at 15:51
  • These sounds very awkward to me without the "himself". – Eric Jan 9 '11 at 20:52

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