Behave Yourself!

This short phrase is one that I suspect nearly every reader who was raised in a English speaking household heard with some regularity. So common is its usage, that I was somewhat startled when I began to think about the questions this phrase could raise for a non-native speaker, especially one whose mother tongue happened to be German.

1. Should the initial “be-” be treated as a prefix? That is, is “behave” a modification of “have?”  Should it be treated as a compound formed from “be” and “have?” Or, is it a base form that cannot be broken down further?

2. How is it pronounced? Like the “ave” in “have” or the “ave” in “save?” And what about using “leave” as a pronunciation guide? Or the “ave” in “suave” or “Ave Maria?”

3. Knowing that one translation is benehmen and that there is also the noun das Benehmen which means “manners” does it have something to do with being polite? Or does it take more from another possible translation verhalten and its related noun das Verhalten, meaning “behavior” or “conduct,” and related adjective verhalten which means “restrained?” To add to the fun, note that one of the other meanings of verhalten is “to pause” or “to stop.”

4. In German, when you want to say someone “behaved well” or “badly” or “childishly,” you use the reflexive forms sich benehmen and sich verhalten. Is the “yourself” or “yourselves” obligatory? That is, is there a difference between “Behave!” and “Behave Yourself!” in terms of their meanings or the contexts in which they are used?

Perhaps the best advice when faced with “behave” is to simply “be yourself.”

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