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This sentence is from TOEFL.

We all tended to take these places for granted, but I do not know what we would have done to entertain ourselves without them.

(for the context, these places refers to a movie theater and an amusement park.)

I understand the overall meaning of the sentence, but I really do not know and want to know why ourselves put in there.

Is there any syntactic structure that ourselves should put in that position?

I think the sentence is makes sense without ourselves. If I omit it, then the sentence will be ungrammatical?

  • The verb to entertain (to amuse, divert, distract, delight,...) is transitive in virtually all contexts. That's to say it needs to have an object. So unless you've specified some other object, such as I don't know what we would have done to entertain our guests without these places, it's syntactically necessary to include a "reflexive" pronouns such as ourselves - or an ordinary pronoun, such as ...to entertain him without them. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 4 '18 at 13:10
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The verb to entertain (to amuse, divert, distract, delight,...) is transitive in virtually all contexts1.

That's to say it needs to have an object. So unless you've specified some other object, such as I don't know what we would have done to entertain our guests without these places, it's syntactically necessary to include a "reflexive" pronoun such as ourselves - or an ordinary pronoun, such as ...to entertain him without them.


1 In very unusual / stilted / dated contexts, it's possible to use entertain as an intransitive verb, with the meaning to provide entertainment especially for guests. For example, a wealthy socially active person in Victorian London could feasibly have said...

I wouldn't be able to entertain without my butler and house servants.

(where the implied subject [my] guests doesn't have to be explicitly stated - but usually is.)

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Entertain is always (I honestly can't think of a situation when it's not) a transitive verb which means that it takes an object (a transitive verb is a verb that requires one or more objects). The reflexive pronoun ourselves is that object. Without it, as you said yourself, the sentence would be ungrammatical. The idea with this verb is that you can't just entertain, you entertain someone or something. Here's another example of using entertain with a reflexive pronoun as the object:

— What do you usually do to entertain yourself when you feel bored?
— I watch movies on Netflix.

My advice to you would be get on the Web and look up the word entertain in a dictionary and study the examples they've got there to learn how the word is used.

  • Hahha - you got your answer in a minute before mine, because I took the extra time to think of a credible example intransitive usage! Actually, it took longer to find a dictionary definition than to think of an example, because the first couple I looked at didn't mention the intransitive possibility. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 4 '18 at 13:27
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The reflexive pronoun "ourselves" is perfectly acceptable in this sentence. You cannot simply delete "ourselves" from this sentence, because the reader may then reasonably ask, "Whom did you wish to entertain?"

You could change the sentence to:

We all tended to take these places for granted, but I do not know what we would have done for entertainment without them.

However, this slightly changes the sense of the sentence, although the meaning is essentially unchanged.

Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and object of a sentence or clause refer to the same person, object or group. In this case the subject is "we" (from "..what we would have done..") and the object is "us" (from ..entertain us without them"). Because "we" and "us" refers to the same group, "us" is replaced with "ourselves".

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