gov·​ern | \ ˈgə-vərn How to pronounce govern (audio) \
governed; governing; governs

Definition of govern

transitive verb

1a : to exercise continuous sovereign authority over especially : to control and direct the making and administration of policy in The country was governed by a king.
b : to rule without sovereign power and usually without having the authority to determine basic policy
2a archaic : manipulate
b : to control the speed of (a machine) especially by automatic means
3a : 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 was told to govern her emotions
4 : to require (a word) to be in a certain case
5 : to serve as a precedent or deciding principle for customs that govern human decisions

intransitive verb

1 : to prevail or have decisive influence : control In all situations allow reason to govern.
2 : to exercise authority

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Other Words from govern

governable \ ˈgə-​vər-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce governable (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for govern


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Examples of govern in a Sentence

The tribe is governed by a 10-member council. They want to form their own country and govern themselves. The scandal limited her ability to govern effectively. How would he govern if he were elected president? She suggested changing the state's laws governing the sale of alcohol. The council governs fishing in the region. We will be studying the forces that govern the Earth's climate. Tradition governs all aspects of their lives. He allows himself to be governed by his emotions.
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Recent Examples on the Web All of this has led some to ask if there is a code that governs how a New Yorker should eat. Charles Passy, WSJ, "To the Chagrin of Politicians, New York Has Strict Food Rules," 18 Jan. 2020 The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, found that the administration broke a law that governs how the executive branch disburses money approved by Congress. Anchorage Daily News, "Senate impeachment trial begins with rancor over witnesses and new evidence about Trump’s Ukraine dealings," 17 Jan. 2020 The board that governs Mississippi’s eight public universities met Thursday and delayed a vote on a proposal to move the monument. Washington Post, "Board delays vote on moving Confederate monument at Ole Miss," 16 Jan. 2020 But the conventional wisdom that now governs book publishing—that things are, for the first time in a long time, not that bad—is wrong. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Can Amazon Finally Crack the Bestseller Code?," 16 Jan. 2020 The 29-year-old Norwegian grandmaster achieved his feat while playing against opponents who had a far higher average Fide rating -- the rankings that govern international chess competition -- than Tiviakov's rivals. Aimee Lewis, CNN, "Magnus Carlsen breaks record for longest unbeaten run in chess," 15 Jan. 2020 Changes in the state law that govern municipal partnerships have to happen before the measure can get on the ballot., "A second term for Donald Trump? Michigan is at the center of the political universe," 9 Jan. 2020 And the fundamental force that governs the course for equities in the long-run is profit growth. Fortune, "The Downside of a Stellar 2019? Stocks Are Now Shockingly Expensive By Nearly Every Measure," 7 Jan. 2020 Cuisine becomes a model for the intuitive allergies and affinities that govern interpersonal relations—and indeed, for the cosmopolitan writer, tasked with adapting the tastiest morsels from every milieu. Julian Lucas, Harper's magazine, "New Books," 6 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'govern.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of govern

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for govern

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

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Time Traveler for govern

Time Traveler

The first known use of govern was in the 14th century

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Statistics for govern

Last Updated

23 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Govern.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 25 January 2020.

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More Definitions for govern


How to pronounce govern (audio)

English Language Learners 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)


gov·​ern | \ ˈgə-vərn How to pronounce govern (audio) \
governed; governing

Kids Definition of govern

2 : to influence the actions and conduct of : control “… a kind word will govern me …”— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
3 : to serve as a rule for Laws governing the Internet are changing.
gov·​ern | \ ˈgə-vərn How to pronounce govern (audio) \

Legal Definition of govern

1 : to exercise continuous sovereign authority over especially : to control and direct the administration of policy in
2 : to exert a determining or guiding influence in or over the testator's assets are governed by will substitutes— W. M. McGovern, Jr. et al.
3 : to serve as a precedent or deciding principle for the law governing bills of lading United States v. Leon governs the case at bar

Other Words from govern

governable \ ˈgə-​vər-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce governable (audio) \ adjective

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More from Merriam-Webster on govern

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for govern

Spanish Central: Translation of govern

Nglish: Translation of govern for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of govern for Arabic Speakers

Comments on govern

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


dull or mediocre

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