Using Reflexive Verbs in English

In the July issue of your English@work, we talked about the different kinds of reflexive verbs, how to form them, and the fact that they are not as frequent in English as in German. It’s very tempting for German speakers to use verbs reflexively in English that are reflexive in German, but this is often wrong. So we will provide you with some exercises to sharpen your awareness of the correct usage.

Exercise: Forming reflexives

What better way is there to revise than with exercises? Here is an easy one to get you started. Please supply the correct reflexive pronouns:
I – ::_;
you – ::;
he – ::;
she – ::_;
it – ::__;
we –::;
you (plural) – ::_;
they – ::____.

Answer key

Exercise: Three types of reflexive verbs

Do you remember the three types of reflexive verbs we discussed in the July issue? Please name and define them. If you can think of anything else to add regarding their English use, feel free to add that information, too.

  1. :::::____
  2. :::::____
  3. :::::____

Answer key

These verbs should not be used reflexively in English

Before we get to the last exercise, we want to mention one area in particular: morning routines. Many of the verbs that German native speakers want to use reflexively in English but should not can be grouped under this general theme. Let’s consider a typical morning routine in German: Man duscht sich oder badet sich oder wäscht sich in irgendeiner Art und Weise. Männer rasieren sich, während Frauen sich eher schminken. Alle Menschen kämmen sich und normalerweise ziehen sie sich auch an.

And in English?
In English you also wash in the morning which means you probably either shower or bathe. Men also shave, women put on make-up, and men, women and children usually dress and comb their hair too. But none of it is done reflexively!

Exercise: Correct the reflexives

Each of the following sentences contains two examples (underlined) of reflexive verbs. Consider each case and correct any mistakes. You may want to pull out your July issue (or look it up online) to consult the table of optional reflexives there.

  1. I need an hour to relax myself before we meet us for the hike.
  2. I hurried myself at work so we would have more time to enjoy ourselves at the party. 
  3. He absented himself from the discussion because he wanted to dress himself for dinner. 
  4. We convinced ourselves that in order to succeed we just needed to apply ourselves more. 
  5. Y You should not shame yourself for wanting to market yourself as a successful office assistant. 
  6. She contented herself with a secretarial position for the time being, but she really saw herself as an entrepreneur. 
  7. He behaved himself as if nothing unusual had happened, even though everyone else expressed themselves surprised.

Answer key

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