checks and balances


plural in form but sometimes singular in construction
: a system that allows each branch of a government to amend, override, or veto acts of another branch so as to prevent any one branch from exerting too much power or power beyond its authority
Things that for many decades were givens—the checks and balances on the executive, the role of the judiciary or the civil service, a media free from interference or vilification—now appear vulnerable.Emily Maitlis
"I do think that there is an expectation in our country that checks and balances is a good thing," [Senator John] Thune said …Stephen Groves
broadly : a system in which power and control is distributed and counterbalanced (as to prevent unethical or harmful actions)
Founders [of startup businesses] benefit from checks and balances. … It makes the company more trustworthy, easier to finance, and less likely to implode. For those same reasons, checks and balances help employees. Noam Wasserman

Examples of checks and balances in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The fragile nature of Israel’s checks and balances explains why the stakes for judicial independence are so high in this controversy. Emily Bazelon, New York Times, 25 July 2023 Claimants argue the new law would collapse Israel’s system of checks and balances and allow the government to pass legislation violating Israel’s Basic Laws — the collection of laws that act as Israel’s constitution. Shira Rubin, Washington Post, 25 July 2023 Hurtado painstakingly details the machinations through which Correa undid the checks and balances of liberal, representative democracy and concentrated power in his own hands. Osvaldo Hurtado, Foreign Affairs, 22 Aug. 2023 Opponents say the plan will destroy Israel's fragile system of checks and balances and move the country toward authoritarian rule. Compiled By Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports, Arkansas Online, 20 July 2023 Without robust norms, traditional checks and balances often prove useless. Dell Cameron, WIRED, 25 Aug. 2023 These checks and balances led to better decisions and less risk. Time, 11 Aug. 2023 And good training data and checks and balances for bias will become even more important. Danielle Abril, Washington Post, 3 Aug. 2023 Thousands of Israeli doctors walked out of work, labor leaders threatened a general strike, and senior justices rushed home from a trip abroad Tuesday, a day after the government approved a law weakening the country’s supreme court that critics say will erode the system of checks and balances. Isabel Debre, The Christian Science Monitor, 25 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'checks and balances.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1777, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of checks and balances was in 1777

Dictionary Entries Near checks and balances

Cite this Entry

“Checks and balances.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition

checks and balances

noun plural
: a system that allows each branch of a government to amend or veto acts of another branch so as to prevent any one branch from having too much power

Legal Definition

checks and balances

noun plural
checks and bal·​anc·​es
: the powers (as judicial review, the presidential veto, and the congressional override) conferred on each of the three branches of government by which each restrains the others from exerting too much power see also separation of powers

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