Demeanor means a person’s outward behavior—the way they act, speak, and express themselves. Just as it’s “not about what you say, but the way you say it,” demeanor is not about what you do, but the way you do it.
So, is demeanor related to demean, which means “to degrade or corrupt something or someone”? According to etymonline.com, the word has its roots in Latin, which evolved into Old French demener (“to guide, conduct; to live, dwell”). It later evolved into Middle English demean (“to handle, manage, conduct”), then into 15th-century English demenure ("conduct, management, treatment, behavior toward someone"), which is pretty close to what it means today. Demean and demeanor are related—they come from the same Latin root, and “to conduct or behave” is another, much rarer, definition of demean.
The only other correct spelling of demeanor is demeanour. The -our ending is standard in every English-speaking country except the US.
Demeanor synonyms with example sentences
While behavior can be a short definition, manner and mannerisms are probably closer synonyms for demeanor. These two words are more precise because they reflect an important distinction: when we hear behavior, we think of a person’s actions, but when we hear manner or mannerisms, we think of the way they perform those actions, which is closer to what demeanor refers to.
Miss Trunchbull, the villainous headmaster from Roald Dahl’s novel Matilda, was known for her unsettling manner. Since she often scowled, yelled, and was physically violent, the students learned to fear her.
Miss Honey’s mannerisms, on the other hand, were sweet and gentle. She spoke in a soft voice and was always patient with her students.
Conduct is another common word with a meaning similar to behavior and can be used as a demeanor synonym, though it falls short in the same way as behavior.
The principal thanked the students for their excellent conduct during the field trip.
Comportment and deportment are demeanor synonyms that are used less often because they sound more formal. They refer to the way a person carries themselves, which is a bit closer to the nuance of demeanor. However, many argue that deportment is strictly physical.
The gymnasts’ comportment after they lost the meet was gracious and professional.
The soldiers maintained a stiff deportment as they carried the flags to the middle of the field.
Bearing is a similar synonym to comportment and deportment in that it sounds more formal. It also has the connotation of referring to a person’s physical posture, which is just one aspect of their demeanor.
The Duchess of Windsor’s bearing was elegant as she entered St. George’s Chapel.
Another synonym, disposition, can be a person’s mood in the short term or their usual pattern of behavior or reaction in the long term. The short-term definition is closer to attitude, focusing on how a person feels on the inside more than on how that feeling is projected outward. The long-term meaning is closer to temperament than attitude and better reflects the meaning of demeanor.
Jamal was known for his sunny disposition.
You might also consider attitude a synonym for demeanor, but since it’s more about a person’s feelings and beliefs than it is about the way they behave, it’s not quite the same.
Though the player was talented, his attitude didn’t fit into the team culture and affected his work ethic, so they traded him.
How to use demeanor in a sentence: examples
Demeanor is one of those words that lends itself easily to corny jokes. Taking the comedian’s approach to using it in a sentence, we could say, “The more he pokes the bear, demeanor it gets.” But of course that would be using it incorrectly.
So let’s look at a few sentences that show you how to use it well. As you read them, think about all the signs that would reveal the person’s demeanor in these situations: their actions, tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.
Mark had planned to propose that evening, but he couldn’t tell by her demeanor whether it would be well accepted.
President Eisenhower’s demeanor during the State of the Union address was determined: he spoke firmly, and his body language showed confidence.
A requirement for the consultant job was a professional demeanor since the company wanted its consultants to come across as knowledgeable, skilled, and efficient.
After my grandpa developed dementia, his entire demeanor changed from lighthearted and playful to fearful and questioning.
Hadiza expected her mother to be angry at her for failing the class, but instead her mom’s demeanor was encouraging.
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What does demeanor mean when talking about a person?
Demeanor means the way a person behaves, such as their mannerisms and tone of voice.
Does demeanor mean the same thing as attitude?
Not quite. Demeanor is all about your outward behavior, such as your facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. Attitude is more focused on how you feel on the inside but is often visible on the outside—through your demeanor.