I don't seem to find any difference between action as a noun and behavior. What's the difference between these two words?

Once I used the word ‘action’ to describe what a character of a movie did for example

Her action in the movie symbolizes blah blah ...

That was not something she did in her daily life, but a simple decision she'd made and followed through. In that case, would action be the right one to be used or behavior be the right one?

  • An action means a single action. A prolonged or repeated action can be called an activity. Behaviour means either a repeated action or a certain pattern of how someone behaves.
    – Jan
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 11:32

1 Answer 1


Action is the act of doing something.

Behaviour is more about the way in which you act.

For example, when two chemicals are mixed, an action occurs (a reaction, in fact). The way in which those two chemicals (or the compound they create) act may be described as a "behaviour".

In human behaviour, a collection of different actions, possibly recurring actions, may collectively be called a behaviour. A child described as "behaving badly" at school may have a history of kicking, punching, screaming etc - all individual actions that make up a behaviour or behavioural pattern.

The fact they are not always interchangeable is evidence of them having separate meanings. For example:

To end poverty would require action.

You couldn't directly substitute this with "behaviour", although you might say...

To end poverty would require changes in behaviour.

...which might imply a series of new actions, collectively described as a behaviour.

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