Reflexive verbs

1 The reflexive pronouns (see pronouns) are:

Singular: myself; yourself; himself; herself; itself
Plural: ourselves; yourselves; themselves

We use a reflexive pronoun after a transitive verb (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases) when the direct object is the same as the subject of the verb:

I am teaching myself to play the piano.
Be careful with that knife. You might cut yourself.

These are the verbs most often found with reflexive pronouns:

  • cut
  • dry
  • enjoy
  • hurt
  • introduce
  • kill
  • prepare
  • teach

Some verbs change their meaning slightly when they have a reflexive pronoun as direct object:

  • amuse
  • apply
  • busy
  • content
  • behave
  • blame
  • distance
  • express
  • find
  • help
  • see
Would you like to help yourself to another drink? = Would you like to take another drink?
I wish the children would behave themselves. = I wish the children would behave well.
He found himself lying by the side of the road. = He was surprised when he realised that he was at the side of the road.
I saw myself as a famous actor. = I imagined that I was a famous actor.
She applied herself to the job of mending the lights. = She worked very hard to mend the lights.
He busied himself in the kitchen. = He worked busily in the kitchen.
I had to content myself with a few Euros. = I had to be satisfied with a few Euros.

The verb enjoy always has an object:

We all enjoyed the party.
I really enjoyed my lunch.

If enjoy has no other object, we use a reflexive pronoun:

They all enjoyed  They all enjoyed themselves.
I really enjoyed  I really enjoyed myself.

NOTE: We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves:

He washed in cold water.
He always shaved before going out in the evening.
Michael dressed and got ready for the party.

We only use reflexives with these verbs for emphasis:

He dressed himself in spite of his injuries.
She’s old enough to wash herself.

Ergative verbs

1. Ergative verbs are both transitive and intransitive:

Peter closed the door   Transitive: N + V + N
The door closed   Intransitive: N + V
I boiled a pan of water   Transitive: N + V + N
The pan boiled   Intransitive: N + V

2. Common ergative verbs are:

  • begin
  • break
  • change
  • close
  • drop
  • crack
  • dry
  • end
  • finish
  • grow
  • improve
  • increase
  • move
  • open
  • shake
  • start
  • stop
  • tear
  • turn

I broke the glass.
I dropped the glass and it broke.

The referee blew his whistle and started the match.
The match started at 2.30.

We grew some tasty potatoes.
The potatoes were growing well.

The wind shook the trees.
The trees shook in the wind.

3. Many verbs to do with cooking are ergative verbs:

  • bake
  • boil
  • cook
  • defrost
  • freeze
  • melt
  • roast

You should roast the meat at 200 degrees centigrade.
The meat was roasting in a hot oven.

I always defrost meat before I cook it.
I am waiting for the meat to defrost.

Melt the chocolate and pour it over the ice cream.
The chocolate was melting in a pan.

4. Verbs to do with vehicles are often ergative:

  • back
  • crash
  • drive
  • fly
  • reverse
  • run
  • sail
  • start
  • stop

I’m learning to fly a plane.
The plane flew at twice the speed of sound.

He crashed his car into a tree.
His car crashed into a tree.

5. We use some ergative verbs with only a few nouns:

  • catch: dress, coat, clothes, trousers etc.
  • fire : Gun, pistol, rifle, rocket.
  • play: guitar, music, piano, violin, CD, DVD etc.
  • ring: bell, alarm

She caught her dress on a nail.
Her dress caught on a nail.

He fired a pistol to start the race.
A pistol fired to start the race.




"some verbs change their meaning slightly when they are have a reflexive pronoun as direct object:"
At the above line you have written "they are have a reflexive pronoun as direct object"
tell me please is it correct to say that THEY ARE HAVE ?

 Hi Alien Mars

Thanks for pointing that out - something slipped past the proof readers.

This site is still in 'beta' mode and so you may find other bugs and mistakes that have to be corrected. 

If you spot anything else, please let us know.

Thanks again

Jack Radford

The LearnEnglish Team

these  ergative   verbs always  trouble  learners . But with  this part, it's ok now.

Excuse me , what is the meaning of '' ergative " I cannot find it anywhere !


We divide verbs into two categories: transitive (with an object) and intransitive (without an object). For example:

I get up at 8.00. [no object = intransitive]
I met him yesterday. [with an object = transitive]

An ergative verb is a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive - it can be used with an object or without. For example:

I woke up at 6.00. [no object = intransitive]
I woke him up at 6.00. [with an object = transitive]

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Do you have any lesson regarding with Basic Sentence Patterns? Thanks.

Hello dencasi,

We have a section entitled 'clause, phrase and sentence' which should help you.  In the menu on the right you can find sub-pages on different aspects of the structures of these elements.

I hope that helps you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! Sir.
First, thank you for the reply. I do really appreciate it a lot.
I speak English ever since I'm 7 years old (I live with the Americans since I'm 6 yrs. of age) and now I'm having a hard time to identifying, naming, classifying and understanding why the function of a word/phrase or clauses, is that way. But whenever I take some exercises here in British Council, I can get a high score, but then when it comes to I identifying, etc. in the sentence. It really giving me a hard time and it really affect my grades (I'm majoring in English).

I hope you can help me. :D :)
Thanks :)

Hi dencasi,

As I mentioned in my reply to your other comment, I'd encourage you to make the most you can of diagramming sentences. It's great that you get high scores when you actually use English grammar - that confirms that you actually know how to use grammar to communicate. The diagramming is a completely different kind of exercise, which perhaps you don't consider useful. But as I said in my other comment, try to find something useful in it, as surely there are lots of things you can learn from it.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Is this sentence ok?

I really enjoyed with them