Sich beeilen = to hurry up
Is it always a refliexive verb?
I have come across this sentence too:
Sie eilten herbei. (They hurried up.)
Here eilten can also be used for "to hurry" and it does not require self reflexive pronoun?
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Yes, beeilen is always reflexive in modern usage. You cannot say *er beeilte or *sie beeilte ihn.
The counterexample you gave is a different word: herbeieilen. This consists of the intransitive verb eilen, "to hurry", and the separable prefix herbei. The compound verb is not directly translateable, but it does not mean "hurry up", I think -- herbei is probably closest to "hither". So, sie eilten herbei means "they came here in a hurry".
In contemporary German beeilen is always reflexive in usage.
This was not always the case. When reading literature from the 19. Century you may come across rare sentences like this:
- Es wird Gewitter, sagte Elisabeth, indem sie ihren Schritt beeilte.Storm, Theodor: Immensee. Berlin, 1852.
- Durch einen Brief des Cardinals Schonberg, aus Rom vom November 1536, wird die Herausgabe beeilt.Humboldt, Alexander von: Kosmos. Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung. Bd. 2. Stuttgart u. a., 1847.
Mostly however beeilen was reflexive even then.
You are comparing two different words.
sich beeilen = to hurry, to hurry up
Klaus wird sich mit dem Frühstück beeilen.
Klaus will hurry up with breakfast.
Klaus beeilt sich mit dem Frühstück.
Klaus hurries up with breakfast.
This is a real reflexive verb, it cannot be used without a reflexive pronoun. The reflexive pronoun is mandatory. And yes, this is always the case. Sich beeilen is always a real reflexive verb.
herbeieilen = to approach, to come running
Der Retter wird bei jedem Wetter herbeieilen.
The rescuer will come running in any weather.
Der Retter eilt bei jedem Wetter herbei.
The rescuer comes running in any weather.
This verb isn't a real reflexive verb. It is neither reflexive nor transitive. It is not just possible to use it without reflexive pronoun, it even is not allowed to use it with a reflexive pronoun or a dative or accusative object. It is an intransitive verb.
You also will have noticed, that herbeieilen is a separable verb that has to be used as one word in some tenses and must be split in two parts in some other tenses, but this has nothing to do with being reflexive or transitive.
Herbeieilen is never a reflexive verb and it is never transitive.