Avail

Avail has three meanings: (1) to make use of; (2) to be of use; and (3) benefit or advantage. In the first sense, avail is always a reflexive verb, followed by a reflexive pronoun such as myself, oneself, or herself, with the pronoun referring to the person or thing performing the action—for example:

Residents visiting the library could avail themselves of the park district’s facilities and programs. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Cooper’s is not technically a defamation suit, although it does avail itself of some of the language used in such suits. [Salon.com]

Think of avail as a synonym of help. In the first example above, residents help themselves. In the second, it helps itself. However, unlike help, the reflexive avail always takes the preposition of.

Irish writers have a unique way of using avail. They often use it to mean to take advantage of—for example:

But they are much more reluctant than mothers to avail of support or to socialise with other parents. [Irish Times]

In other varieties of English, this might be,

But they are much more reluctant than mothers to avail themselves of support or to socialise with other parents.

The second verb sense of avail is rare and easily avoided, as synonyms such as help, profit, and benefit are usually more precise. Here’s a rare example of avail used in this sense:

Someone should have been doing the groundwork for Vick’s return to society and to football, but his pricey lawyers, agents and advisers have availed him little. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

And the noun avail mainly appears in phrases such as to no avail and to little avail, which mean without success and with little success—for example:

After the remarks sparked outrage, the DNI issued a statement clarifying them, but to little avail. [Telegraph]

The officers have consistently denied any contact. Their appeals and other avenues of recourse have so far been to no avail. [Winnipeg Free Press]

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