According to the Oxford dictionary

behave [intransitive, transitive] to do things in a way that people think is correct or polite

Will you kids just behave!

She doesn't know how to behave in public.

The children always behave for their father.

behave yourself I want you to behave yourselves while I'm away.

My idea is that

If we treated language like math, could we say?

-"She behaves"

because if we replace the verb "behave" with "to do things in a way that people think is correct or polite", the sentence will be

-"She does things in a way that people think is correct or polite".

However, "she behaves" doesn't make much sense and like examples in the dictionary, we need to add more words, for example,

"She knows how to behave" or "She behaves well" or something like that.

Is it correct to say "She behaves" or "She behaves herself"?

  • 3
    You are right that She behaves doesn't mean very much because, as you see from the dictionary, behave also means 'act in a particular way'. You need additional words to make it clear that you mean it in the sense 'behaves well'. Oct 20, 2021 at 14:31
  • 1
    "'She behaves' doesn't make much sense and ... we need to add more words... " Do we? "Oh behave!" Oct 20, 2021 at 14:31
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    (In other words, I move that "She behaves" isn't grammatically invalid but simply unclear. No, strike that, I think it's perfectly clear. An intransitive use of behave implies good behavior. Imagine: "Your dog attacked me!" "Yeah, she behaves." "What are you talking about, her behavior is horrible!" "Ah, she behaves badly. You'll note I didn't say how she behaves." "Okay, I get it; you're a bigger jerk than your dog." Oct 20, 2021 at 14:35
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    It's hard to see any context where a native speaker might make the bald assertion She behaves. But it's perfectly okay to use to behave "non-reflexively" in contexts like If your toddler behaves, she will be given a lollipop (where reflexive ...behaves herself is also perfectly valid, and means exactly the same). Oct 20, 2021 at 17:30
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    @Juhasz I disagree; a non-transitive use of behave does in fact mean "comport oneself correctly." Correct comportment may of course obey orders, but such a connotation is not required; I would argue that "well-behaved" is broader than "obedient." And, although it might not be the most original or helpful compliment, I don't see that calling a child "well-behaved" implies a Draconian parenting paradigm or is received as old-fashioned. Oct 20, 2021 at 18:14

1 Answer 1


The verb 'behave' is an ambitransitive verb (used both transitively & intransitively) :

Used as a transitive reflexive verb : She behaves herself.

Here, the verb 'behaves‘ is a transitive reflexive verb taking the reflextive object ‘herself‘. Here the verb ‘behave‘ means ‘to act in a polite or proper way‘. So, the sentence means *‘She behaves politely or properly‘*·

Used as an intransitive verb : She behaves well / like a child.

When the verb ‘behave‘ is used intransitively (non-reflexively), it means *‘to act in a particular way‘. To indicate that particular way, we use adverb/ adverbial phrase :

She behaves well. (well > adverb)

She behaves like a child (like a child > adverbial phrase)

Even an intransitive verb ‘behave‘ also means ‘to act politely or properly‘ : "Mother is always telling me to behave when we go out".

Therefore, "She behaves" is correct; but you can add an adverb or adverbial phrase or an reflexive object for the clarity of the sentence.

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