Used Transitively, “Avail” Is a Reflexive Verb

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I noticed the following sentence in a travel blog. It refers to the availability of rental lockers in French railway stations:

[Travelers] can therefore once again avail of these services particularly in main train stations in France.

In this sentence, avail requires an object: …avail themselves of these services.

Avail can be used intransitively (without an object). Here are some examples of the intransitive use of avail from Webster’s Unabridged:

Heroism could not avail against the enemy fire.
The wall could not avail to protect the town against cannon.
No comparison would avail; he was one of a kind.

When used transitively, the object of avail is usually the reflexive form of the subject:

I availed myself of the library facilities.
He availed himself of the free lunch.
They availed themselves of the coupon.
We availed ourselves of the use of the neighbor’s lawnmower.

Here are some quotations from newspapers:

… (It seems George over-cheered at their gathering two years ago when the New York Giants won the big game, then “availed himself of the toilet in their master bedroom.”)Newman shows up near the end, toting a box … (www.usatoday.com)

< ... (www.nytimes.com)

… the ability to live and work throughout the EU in exchange for a cash investment. We know that among those who have availed themselves of this right are billionaire Russian oligarchs and Ukrainians accused of corruption. For the financial … (www.theguardian.com)

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8 thoughts on “Used Transitively, “Avail” Is a Reflexive Verb”

  1. I agree with you. The old forms of seek, slay, beseech and other strong verbs resonate with me. I am actually saddened by the progressive regularization of the English language. I recognize that many people are confused by strong conjugations, but I think they pack a punch that is missing in the “ed” forms.
    This trend is leading us to strangeness with pronouns as well. I think the original issue with pronouns is gender neutrality for political purposes, but when I read some of the tortured sentences that result, I feel as if someone scratched a fingernail across a blackboard. For example, “Each student was allowed to choose a different color for their sash.” In seventh grade grammar, I learned that masculine singular is also the generic form for a pronoun, and it makes much more sense to me. I will probably go to jail some day for politically incorrect speech.

  2. I wanted to make mention of another common use of “avail” in an idiom: “to no avail,” as in
    Gavin tried to persuade all the peeping baby chicks to convene inside his rucksack, but to no avail.
    I thoroughly agree with your notes about the “old forms.” They are the proper forms; the others are simply linguistic bad habits. There are of course many other examples. However, many irregularities about English phrases are the result of similar habitual bad usage.
    Incidentally, the phrase “long time no see” is a literal translation of the Chinese language greeting, and “passionfruit” is a rare back-transliteration of the Chinese name of the fruit, which sounds like “bye-shiang-gwoh.” “Chow Mein” is another example; it means simply “fried noodles.” I have more if you’re interested; I’ve lived in Taiwan for eleven years!
    Best wishes.

  3. Farhat,
    I just noticed your question of April 10.

    The helping verb could is used with the infinitive form (without the “to”)
    I could go with you.
    I could not go with you.
    They could remember their wives’ birthdays.

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