English Reflexive Verbs

English Reflexive VerbsReflexive verbs in their typological complexity. How their form differs from meaning.


Reflexive verbs are notional/link verbs with their activity doer/agent and recipient/patient/addressee being the same and expressed by subjects and direct objects correspondingly. These aren’t only verbs with reflexive pronouns.

In case you perjure yourself, you will be heavily punished.

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True/literal reflexives denote doer and addressee simultaneousness. They are typically transitive verbs with reflexive pronouns, also able to be used in non-reflexive meaning. We can use most transitives with reflexive pronouns when meaningful.

He blamed himself for the accident.


Basic pronominal reflexives:

to enjoy oneself
to hurt oneself
to kill oneself
to market oneself
to convince oneself
to deny oneself
to encourage oneself
to pay oneself
to busy oneself
to content oneself
to pride oneself
to avail oneself
to assert oneself
to distinguish oneself
to commit oneself
to exert oneself
to repeat oneself
to suit oneself
to prove oneself
to kid oneself
to put oneself
to wear oneself

Few normal intransitives can be used transitively with reflexive pronouns.

The pupils behaved themselves very well.


Some pronominal reflexives change their meaning when used reflexively.

Please, explain what you mean by that.

You got to explain yourself [give reason for your behavior].


In English, pronominal reflexives are uncommon. Sometimes students mistranslate directly from their native languages adding reflexive pronouns when not necessary.

Before leaving for work I get up, shower and have breakfast.


Reciprocal Reflexives

Reciprocal reflexives denote mutual doer/addressee activity. They are mostly transitive.

She and I kissed [each other].

I kissed her.





Autocausative reflexives denote animate doer passivity.

She got depressed.


Anticausative reflexives denote inanimate subject passivity.

The door (was/got) opened.


Impersonal/mediopassive reflexives are intransitive verbs with doers implied.

[They] relax well here.

It’s thought that…

Proper Reflexives

Proper/inherent reflexives lack corresponding non-reflexives from which they can be synchronically derived. These are pure intransitive reflexive verbs.

They laugh.

She and I parted.

Customers complain.