Today I was debating whether the use of the adverbs such as 'well', 'badly', 'poorly' must be used after verbs like 'behave' and 'conduct'. Many times I am faced with sentences such as:

A court interpreter shall conduct himself both inside and outside of the court, as not to give occasion for distrust.

Should adverbs like well, properly, etc. be employed or they would be implied?

  • 3
    Your example isn't grammatical anyway. Technically, you need so as not to give occasion for distrust. Admittedly the sentence then becomes somewhat ungainly (I'd move that adverbial clause to appear immediately after the verb it modifies - conduct himself). But clearly it's completely unnecessary to include another adverbial element such as well, properly, correctly, since the sentence as written already has a much more specific adverbial qualifier than any of those single words. – FumbleFingers Oct 7 '14 at 20:43
  • Hi, Andre, and welcome to ELU. Sorry for the edit. That personal info would be most welcome on your profile! :) Please feel free to take the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. – anongoodnurse Oct 7 '14 at 21:31

Unlike "to conduct", "to behave/to behave oneself" can be used without an adverb/preposition when it means "to be good/to not do things that annoy or offend people".

For example:

  • Will you behave!
  • The children know how to behave.
  • Let’s hope the weather behaves.
  • I hope she behaved herself at the party.

I think it depends on the definition of the verb in question.

"Behave" has a well known secondary definition: "conduct oneself in accordance with the accepted norms of a society or group". You use this secondary definition when you tell your three-year-old to "behave, right now!"

However, "conduct" does not have a definition which suggests "proper conduct". In your examples, you could use "behave" and have a reasonable expectation that a reader would understand that you meant "behave properly," however, you should not have such an expectation with the word "conduct", because it simply means to "organize and carry out" or to "act in a given way." "Given" is a more ambiguous concept than "in accordance with the accepted norms."

  • Also, 'behave' = 'behave in a satisfactory manner' is usually a colloquial usage, as per your example. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 7 '14 at 21:46
  • @EdwinAshworth: He behaves himself. He never misbehaves. – Drew Oct 8 '14 at 0:27
  • I remember well having to write hundreds of times, as punishment, I will learn how to conduct myself in the auditorium. – Drew Oct 8 '14 at 0:27
  • @Drew I'd say that 'misbehave' occurs without modifiers far more often than 'behave' in formal registers. But I didn't say that 'behave' = 'behave in a satisfactory manner' is always a colloquial usage. And you got off lightly; MGS School Rule 5: Pupils must not run, shout, or show disorderliness of any kind in the classroom, the corridors, the hall ... – Edwin Ashworth Oct 8 '14 at 13:26
  • @EdwinAshworth: ...and the auditorium. – Drew Oct 8 '14 at 13:38

While the verbs "behave" and "conduct" are similar in meaning, they behave slightly differently syntactically (phew!).

For starters, we should carve off the meaning of "behave" that implies "well." As other responders have pointed out, using "behave" without a reflexive pronoun, adverb, or adverbial phrase includes the meaning of "nicely" or "so as not to offend people." It is used most commonly in regards to children's behavior. We can also suggest this meaning with a reflexive object while omitting an adverb (e.g. "Behave yourself!") In fact, I have a hunch (perhaps someone can work with me to confirm it) that the now-common imperative "Behave" is just a shortened form of "Behave yourself!" Shortened because you can't behave anyone else, so why include the reflexive object?

"Conduct" is never used in the same way as this form of "behave."

With its behavior-related meaning (as opposed to its meaning of planning and doing (e.g. conduct research), of guiding a performance (e.g. conduct the choir), of guiding someone (e.g. conducted the tour group to...), or of acting as a conveyance medium (e.g. conduct electricity)), "conduct" has an obligatory reflexive object (e.g. herself) and an adverbial phrase (e.g. in a manner befitting a duchess).

Outside of the meaning / usage of "behave" outlined above, but with the same meaning of "acting in a certain way," "behave" has an obligatory adverb (e.g. nicely). In this way, it is similar to the class of words including certain meanings of "augur," "bode," "mean," and "treat."

Source: English Verb Classes and Alternations, Beth Levin

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