From time to time you probably think about certain structures and pattern. Now, a person can well-behaved (especially children :-)). It all makes sense, doesn’t it? But why is this adjective made up of a past participle and not of a gerund? I mean, to behave is something you do rather than you are. So why don’t we use “well-behaving” instead?
Most certainly a moot question but we could have as well a discussion about it, couldn’t we?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: An African child on a tree[YSaerTTEW443543]

I would answer that we use the past particple because these adjectives (eg. well-behaved) describe an action or behavior already done or demonstrated. We know that the children behaved well at least once in the past. So, because they did something in the past, behaved well, we now say they are well-behaved.
Other examples are ‘a poorly-built house’ and ‘a well-written book’.

We do use the gerund form, behaving well, for a present or ongoing situation. ‘You told me that they are well-behaved children but they certainly are not behaving well (now) (today).’
After their bad behavior today, we can go back to the past participle form and say ‘You told me that they are well-behaved children but they sure weren’t well-behaved today.’.

There likely are other ways to look at this, so I will be interested to read what others have to say.

Hi Torsten,

This is an extremely interesting point that you have raised and for the life of me I can’t quite put my finger on why it is well-behaved and not well-behaving. There are a host of expressions that come to mind creating compound adjectives with the word well- well built, well-groomed, well informed, well-known, well-read, well-spoken and so on. There are precious few where well is joined to a present participle. I have thought of one so far - well-meaning and its partner well-meant. The question is what is the difference? An action could be described as well-meant and a person’s attitude could be described as well-meaning. They neither however necessarily relate to any sense of time. My feeling is that the past participle refers to a state or status that is as it were frozen or fixed or even finite whereas the present participle suggests a volatile and fluid almost infinite situation.

That’s about as far as I can go at the moment.



(thoughtfully viewing a dictionary for well-…ing words) Hmm, how interesting. Just a few, indeed.

well-fitting shoes, OK, logical

… (some quite special professional terms)
and that’s all!!!

well-to-do person

How about well + infinitive? :slight_smile: