"badly-behaved boy" or "badly-behaving boy" ?

behaved is past participle which has passive meaning.

behaving is present participle which has active meaning.

would you mind explaining to me why "badly-behaved boy" is correct?


Actually, no form of "behave" ever has a passive meaning.

In modern English, the verb "behave" is always used either as an intransitive verb ("he behaved well") or as a reflexive verb ("Behave yourselves!"). Neither of these types of verbs have corresponding passive constructions, so passive uses of "behave" (or its inflected/derived forms) simply do not exist.

The past participle form "behaved" simply has a stative active meaning in this case, like the past participle form "fallen" which corresponds to the intransitive verb verb "fall," and can mean "in the state resulting from the action of falling".

There isn't as big a difference in meaning between "behaving" and "behaved" as there is between "falling" and "fallen." Unlike "fallen", "badly behaved" doesn't particularly imply being in a state resulting from bad behavior; it just means "being in a state of bad behavior". In general, "badly behaved" is more idiomatic and more commonly used than "badly behaving", especially in attributive position with an adverbial modifier as in your example.

It seems to me the word "behaving" might be used to emphasize the in-progress nature of the behavior (as in "There was a badly behaving customer in the store"; you don't know whether the customer is habitually badly behaved, just that their behavior at that moment was impolite). But that's just a guess of mine; I don't see any clear difference in meaning.

By the way, according to Merriam-Webster, many style guides recommend never using a hyphen after a -ly adverb. Sven Yargs' answer to an ELU question about hyphenation also supports this proscription. So "badly behaved" and "badly behaving" are probably better ways to write these phrases, even in attributive position.

  • Hi sumelic, and thank you so much. Do you think "bad-behaviored boy" has the same meaning with ""badly behaved boy"? – Tinh Van Jun 1 '17 at 17:37
  • @TinhVan: It probably does have the same meaning, but I would not recommend ever using the expression "bad-behaviored". It sounds very odd and un-idiomatic to me. I see that it has some use, shown by Google, but I think it is much less common than "badly behaved". – sumelic Jun 1 '17 at 17:54

Just want to point out that adverbs, typically ending in "ly", do not need to be hyphenated as compound modifiers. This is according to AP and many other style books.

Badly behaved child slowly moving train closely held company

But: well-built structure

  • 1
    I don't think "adverbs, typically ending in 'ly'" is the best way of expressing what you mean. The descripive phrase "ending in ly" is "restrictive" in meaning, not appositive: not all adverbs end in "ly", and the rule only applies to those that do end in "ly" (plus the special adverb "very"). So I would instead write "adverbs ending in -ly" without commas. – sumelic May 30 '17 at 20:45
  • This is a good point other than what @sumelic mentioned. However, it should have been added as a comment, as it does not answer the question. – vpn May 30 '17 at 23:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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