Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Medical
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


verb gov·ern \ˈgə-vərn\

Simple Definition of govern

  • : to officially control and lead (a group of people) : to make decisions about laws, taxes, social programs, etc., for (a country, state, etc.)

  • : to control the way that (something) is done

  • : to control or guide the actions of (someone or something)

Full Definition of govern

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 a :  to exercise continuous sovereign authority over; especially :  to control and direct the making and administration of policy in b :  to rule without sovereign power and usually without having the authority to determine basic policy

  3. 2 a archaic :  manipulate b :  to control the speed of (as a machine) especially by automatic means

  4. 3 a :  to control, direct, or strongly influence the actions and conduct of b :  to exert a determining or guiding influence in or over <income must govern expenditure> c :  to hold in check :  restrain

  5. 4 :  to require (a word) to be in a certain case

  6. 5 :  to serve as a precedent or deciding principle for <customs that govern human decisions>

  7. intransitive verb
  8. 1 :  to prevail or have decisive influence :  control

  9. 2 :  to exercise authority

gov·ern·able play \-vər-nə-bəl\ adjective

Examples of govern

  1. The tribe is governed by a 10-member council.

  2. They want to form their own country and govern themselves.

  3. The scandal limited her ability to govern effectively.

  4. How would he govern if he were elected president?

  5. She suggested changing the state's laws governing the sale of alcohol.

  6. The council governs fishing in the region.

  7. We will be studying the forces that govern the Earth's climate.

  8. Tradition governs all aspects of their lives.

  9. He allows himself to be governed by his emotions.

Origin of govern

Middle English, from Anglo-French governer, from Latin gubernare to steer, govern, from Greek kybernan

First Known Use: 14th century

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up govern? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


February 11, 2016

the holder of an office

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


How much does a batman (the Turkish unit of measurement) weigh?

196.5 pounds 100 pounds 16.96 pounds 2.2 pounds
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.