One of the definitions of the verb refrain is...

refrain - to avoid doing or stop yourself from doing something.

If there's an external force of your own(!) that stops you from doing something, how the word refrain is used?

Is this sentence correct?

"Your own baseless ethics! Yes, that's what stops yourself from doing that work."

The ethics are mine and so I, myself, cannot overcome them. So, here, it happens to me, myself.

This sentence throws error but...

"Your own baseless ethics! Yes, that's what refrains you from doing that work."

  • 1
    I think we shouldn't and probably can't use refrain transitively (e.g. *"He refrained you"). Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 8:42

1 Answer 1


Your example is incorrect because your ethics is not the same as yourself, regardless of ownership. Even though values are an integral part of defining a person, they are not the same. An individual might change and is more than their ethics, and the same morals may be held by multiple people. You've suggested this yourself by acknowledging ethics as an external force.

Refrain is a reflexive verb and used intransitively. The definition encapsulates a patient already; the agent always holds back or stops itself. One never refrains something else, and we typically don't say I refrained myself because that's redundant. Note that I refrained myself is not really a transitive usage; it's an explicit statement of the complete reflexive meaning.

Archaically, refrain was used transitively as a synonym for restrain (meaning you could refrain someone else, not just yourself), but this usage has been dropped from modern English and is no longer correct.

I suggest using restrain for transitive cases such as your sample sentence.

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