I think behavior is more about manner,act refers to a thing one does. But suppose I want to find a phrase to mean rules that stipulate what you can do and cannot do, such as you cannot kill a person, shall I use rules of behavior, or behavioral rules?

Example 2 : All human beings shall obey the basic rules such as you shall not kill a person in their behavior.

  • Maybe commandments?
    – bib
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 21:55
  • Actually, to address your point regarding act vs. behavior, the noun form of "act" is the thing one does. The verb form is the action which can also be substituted for behavior, for example: "He acted like an idiot!" and "He behaved like an idiot!" or "His behavior was idiotic!" Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 18:57

2 Answers 2


Disregarding the alternate definitions of "act", which can also refer to part of a story or play...

Act - 1. The process of doing or performing something: the act of thinking. 2. Something done or performed; a deed: a charitable act.

Act, in both of these cases, refers to a singular occurance. Though it can also mean the way in which one does such things, so saying they should not "act in such a way" indicates that they way in which they are doing a thing is inappropriate. Whereas behavior...

Behavior 1. The manner in which one behaves. 2. a. The actions or reactions of a person or animal in response to external or internal stimuli. b. One of these actions or reactions 3. The manner in which something functions or operates

Refers either to the collective actions one is usually expected to take, or the way in which they react to something happening to them. It defines their expected actions, such as "that man has a tendency to behave violently" meaning they tend to perform violent actions.

In short, behavior defines how an individual will act, whereas an act is anything an individual does and how they do it, independent of their typical behavior (though usually connected to it, barring extenuating circumstances).

More importantly though, neither of these words are acutally necessary in the context you provided, because it is already understood that 'laws' are meant to dictate how one acts/behaves.

Law 1. A rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority.

When you are laying out rules such as this, it is understood that you are describing how a person should act. It also indicates that this is the behavior that is expected of them.

You can call them "Commandments", "Laws", "Orders", or any other synonym of these words, because it is understood that you are ordering people to do these things or behave in these ways. "Commandments" certainly works, as in The Ten Commandments. You can even say that such actions fall outside of these orders, as in the phrase "outlawed", where actions are "outlawed" by being outside of the delinated expectations for social behavior.


A single act refers to a motion or a set of behaviors that is invoked once.

A behavior tends to imply that the same act occurs multiple times.

e.g. Normally, the monkey's typical behavior was to stick his hand into the trap and hold on to the banana. By this he would normally be trapped. But, in this one particular act of defiance, he reached in and smashed his prize...

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.