Have -> /hæv/

Behave -> /bɪˈheɪv/

Why 'have' is pronounced as /hæv/ and 'behave' as /bɪˈhv/?

Origin of 'behave': late Middle English: from be- ‘thoroughly’ + have in the sense ‘have or bear (oneself) in a particular way’.

'Behave' = be + have (and yet 'have' alone is pronounced differently while 'have' in 'behave' is pronounced differently).

Thank you.

  • 1
    My money is on that the vowel in behave changed along with all other words with the "long A" (the FACE vowel) but have didn't, as it is quite common for function words to be separated from the rest of the vocabulary.
    – Nardog
    Mar 17, 2020 at 7:26

2 Answers 2


The verb “to have” and “to behave” have separate roots but come from verbs meaning much the same thing.

To have is a very old English word meaning, in broad terms, to have rights over something or to possess or own something.

eOE King Ælfred tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (Otho) (2009) I. xii. 438 He hæfð on his [agenum gen]oh.

The verb “aver” is equally old in its origins but is from the Romance languages and did not enter English until the 14th century and when it did, it did so in the noun “haviour”:

The use of “havoir” in the 15th and 16th centuries was mainly legal and the origins were from the French verb “aver” = to have[1] (hence the pronunciation), but referred to land, other property money that was possessed or owned. As far as the pronunciation was concerned, it paralleled “save” and “saviour”[2]

[1330 R. Mannyng Chronicles. 124 In suilk felonie gadred grete auere.]

c1400 Rom. Rose 4720 Love, it is..Wit withoute discrecioun; Havoire withoute possessioun.

Haviour (n.) †1. The fact of having; possession; a possession, property; estate, substance, wealth. Obsolete.

c1440 Promptorium Parvulorum 231/1 Havure, or havynge of catel, or oþer goodys (K. havour, or werdly good..), averium.

This gave way to the meaning:

  1. The action of having or bearing oneself; deportment, bearing, behaviour, manner. Also plural manners. archaic or dialect.

?1504 S. Hawes Example of Vertu sig. cc.iiiv Mylde in her hauour dyscrete of chere.

a1800 S. Pegge Anecdotes of the English Language (1814) 378 Haviours, manners. ‘Do you think I have forgot my haviours?’

In the 16th century the two nouns were in use side by side:

1490 W. Caxton tr. Eneydos xxxi. 120 For hys honneste behauoure [he] began to be taken with his loue. ?1504 S. Hawes Example of Vertu sig. cc.iiiv Mylde in her hauour dyscrete of chere.

(I could speculate that, in early use the “be” form related more to exterior actions and the “non-be” form to the character.)

[1] aver, n. /ˈeɪvə/

Forms: α. ME aueyr, auere, haver, ME auer, ME aveer, hawere. pluralME auers, averys.

Etymology: < Old French aveir, aver, modern French avoir, possession, property, stuff, ‘stock,’ cattle, domestic animals, beasts of burden; lit. ‘having,’ substantive use of aveir , avoir < Latin habēre to have. So Italian avere ‘substance, goods, stocke, chattle’ (Florio); Spanish averes , haveres , plural, ‘goods, wealth, substance’; whence medieval Latin aver , avere , averium , averum , ‘substance, goods,’ and avera , averia , plural (in Anglo-Latin), ‘beasts, cattle,’ singular averum , -ium , sometimes averia , ‘beast,’ averius , affrus , affer , ‘beast of burden, draught-horse.’ English had only the Norman form aveyr , aver , before 1400; the 15th cent. introduced avoir from literary French, from Caxton onward havoir , havor , haviour n. in sense 1. The earlier aver was retained in northern dialect only in a special sense.

[2] The verb to have has existed in all forms of English and carries the idea of possession and/or ownership. It is the verb that gave rise to the noun “haviour” In 14–15th cent., association with the Engl. have, having, introduced the variants haver, havoir, havour, and the h was established before 1500. At the same time the parallel behavour was formed on the English behave; and in 16th cent. havour, beside its original sense of ‘possession’, took also that of behavour. Subsequently the termination of both words passed through -eour to -iour (compare saviour, and vulgar ‘lovier’); the original sense ‘possession’ became obsolete; and, in the new sense, haviour came down alongside of behaviour,

All quotes from OED.


Quoting another answer by tchrist:

Remember that English spelling today represents only Middle English pronunciation from half a millennium past, not that of current English. Spellings were locked down long ago, just as soon as we starting setting words in lead — meaning, in movable type. That froze everything. Pronunciations all changed dramatically after that, and often very soon afterwards during the Great Vowel Shift, but by then it was much too late to change those frozen spellings.

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