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From Middle English behaven, bihabben (to restrain, behave), from Old English behabban (to surround, embrace, hold, contain, hold back, withhold, restrain), from Proto-West Germanic *bihabbjan, equivalent to be- +‎ have. Cognate with Middle Low German behebben, behāven (to receive, acquire, reach, keep), Low German behebben (to act, behave), German behaben (to behave).


  • IPA(key): /bɪˈheɪv/, /bəˈheɪv/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪv


behave (third-person singular simple present behaves, present participle behaving, simple past and past participle behaved)

  1. (reflexive) To conduct (oneself) well, or in a given way.
    You need to behave yourself, young lady.
  2. (intransitive) To act, conduct oneself in a specific manner; used with an adverbial of manner.
    He behaves like a child whenever she's around.
    How did the students behave while I was gone?
    My laptop has been behaving erratically ever since you borrowed it.
    • 2014 April 21, “Subtle effects”, in The Economist, volume 411, number 8884:
      Manganism has been known about since the 19th century, when miners exposed to ores containing manganese, a silvery metal, began to totter, slur their speech and behave like someone inebriated.
  3. (obsolete, transitive) To conduct, manage, regulate (something).
  4. (intransitive) To act in a polite or proper way.
    His mother threatened to spank him if he didn't behave.
    • 2009, Roger L. Van Ommeren, From Rebellion to Submission, page 48:
      One time when Willie was more set on clowning than on learning about Jesus, Miss Helen ordered, "Willie Mack, you stand up against the wall until you learn to behave."


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