Behalf - behoof - behoove - behove

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Behalf, behoof, behoove and behove are very similar in appearance, and quite similar in meaning. Don't confuse them! - although many others have. There are also problems with usage, partly to do with transatlantic differences in English. In British English, the forms with '-o-' and '-oo-' are currently virtually unknown.

Etymological note: The noun behalf, now only used in prepositional phrases with on, or in, behalf of, is not etymologically related to the impersonal verb behove. (It shares a [[root with 'half', having a similar image to that of 'side'.) The verb behove has its root in Old English behófian 'to be of behoof or use' which OED links to behoof n., derived from 'bihóf-líc 'useful' or 'necessary'.
  • Behalf is the most current of all these words in Britain. The general sense is '[on the] side [of]', '[in the] interests [of]'. There has been a distinction, not now observed in British English, between 'in the interest of', or 'for the benefit of [in a disinterested way]', and 'as representing'. A lawyer may speak 'on behalf of a client'; an ambassador speaks on behalf the Government [s]he represents.
    • This is currently the ordinary meaning of both 'in behalf of' and 'on behalf of', in Britain. OED: observes "In recent use we often find on behalf in the sense of in behalf 2b, to the loss of an important distinction" [AWE's emphasis] (s.v. behalf, 1.e.). (Sense 2b is "In the interest of, as a friend or defender of, for the benefit of. (With the notion of interposition: 'speak in my behalf' = in my interest, say a good word for me, intercede for me.") LGEU says "It is possible in American English, and was formerly possible in British English, to distinguish in your behalf (ie in your interest) from on your behalf (ie as your representative) (Longman Guide to English Usage). The online version of pocket Fowler's appears to say that 'in behalf of' is the American version of 'on behalf of', but this is not universally true. Insofar as it is, it suggests that OED's "important distinction" is being lost in a similar fashion, although in a different direction, in American English as well as in British English.
    • Recently, a different careless usage appears to be becoming more common: "on behalf of should not be confused with on the part of. An effort on behalf of the members is made for their sake, one on the part of the members is made by the members themselves" (Longman Guide to English Usage).

  • The impersonal verb '[it] behoves [him]' means '[it] is suitable(/proper/necessary/fitting) [for him [to do]], ~ 'he ought to ...'. This is the form dominant in British English, reflecting the British pronunciation, which rhymes with 'grove' and 'drove' - IPA: /bɪ ˈhəʊv[z]]/.
    • [It] behooves [someone] is an older form of the above, now only current in American English, where it appears to be the predominant form. It is pronounced to rhyme with 'move' and 'groove' - IPA: /bɪ ˈhuːv[z]/. This is the older pronunciation: OED is interesting on the subject: "Historically, it rhymes with move, prove, but being now mainly a literary word, it is generally made to rhyme with rove, grove, by those who know it only in books". LPD separates the two pronunciations for the two different spellings.