What is the difference, if any, between the following sentences:

  1. He was rude at first but he started to behave.

  2. He was rude at first but he started to behave well.

  3. He was rude at first but he started to behave himself.

Does using an adverb such as well in the second sentence make the meaning of the first sentence stronger?

Can we add "towards me/you/her/the teacher" at the end of the sentences above as well?

2 Answers 2


"Behave" is a word that, without any modification ("behave badly", "behave strangely", "behave well"), automatically carries the sense of "behave well".

More, without modification, it also carries the sense "behave oneself", so to quote the Cole Porter song (from his 1948 musical 'Kiss Me Kate'):

"Why can't you behave?
Oh, why can't you behave?
After all the things you told me
And the promises that you gave
Oh, why can't you behave?"

By the way, the second verse says much the same thing with different words: "Why can't you be good?"

... "Why can't you behave?" means 'why can't you act in the way that people expect of you (that society expects of you)?

... "Why can't you be good?" means 'why can't you conform with society's expectations/the law/your religious precepts (and allow your actions to be guided by these)?'

'Be good, 'be bad' have to do with one's character, whatever makes one act in a good or bad way; 'behave', 'behave well', 'behave badly', 'behave yourself' are talking about the actions themselves and any assessment of character would be by inference. But because one's actions are so closely determined by one's motivations, "Why can't you behave?" and "Why can't you be good?" mean virtually the same thing!


These are grammatical:

He began to behave.

He began to behave himself.

But this is not:

He began to behave himself towards the teacher.ungrammatical

We behave {in a certain manner} towards another person.

But we do not behave ourselves towards another person. ungrammatical

"To behave {myself | oneself | himself | herself |, ourselves |themselves | yourself | yourselves}" does not accept a prepositional complement that refers to another person, the person towards whom the behavior is directed or in respect to whom the behavior occurs. You can think of the reflexive pronoun as the predicate making a U-turn to look at its subject, such that it cannot look towards the Other.

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