gov·​ern | \ˈgə-vərn \
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 \ adjective

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

After a very obnoxious retrograde cycle, Venus (the planet that governs love and beauty), finally goes direct on Friday, November 16. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "What November's Gemini Horoscope Means for You," 28 Oct. 2018 Delta-v governs what is possible in spaceflight and what is not. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "NASA says it’s building a gateway to the Moon—critics say it’s just a gate," 6 Sep. 2018 For the past month, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Seehofer, whose party is a partner in Merkel's governing coalition, have been embroiled in a debate about Germany’s migration policy that nearly torpedoed her government. Luisa Beck, Washington Post, "German leader revels in deportations in a week when a refugee sent back to Kabul apparently hanged himself," 11 July 2018 Most recently, Italy, which now includes a right-wing, anti-immigrant party as part of its governing coalition, refused to accept a boat carrying more than 600 migrants; it was eventually taken in by Spain. Christopher F. Schuetze And Michael Wolgelenter, New York Times, "Fact Check: Trump’s False and Misleading Claims About Crime and Immigration in Germany," 18 June 2018 Unless the governing parties agree to continue the coalition under a new leader, Germany’s ninth chancellor since World War II would serve in a caretaker capacity through to a new election. Patrick Donahue,, "Five Ways Merkel’s Coalition Crisis Could Blow Up or Blow Over," 15 June 2018 Of nine political parties in Parliament, three — including two in the governing coalition — have taken the rare step of letting lawmakers choose independently how to vote on the issue. Martin Selsoe Sorensen, The Seattle Times, "Denmark talks (reluctantly) about a ban on circumcising boys," 2 June 2018 But the slide towards autocracy has pushed millions to stand up and demand a say in how their lives are governed. Vivienne Walt, Time, "Meet 4 Crusaders Who Are Keeping the Dream of Democracy Alive," 12 July 2018 The rage is driven by the realization that Trump, who, without a conservative bone in his body, is governing as a conservative, with cuts to taxes and government regulation and a strict enforcement of borders. John Kass,, "How to maintain the republic? Originalist justices like Brett Kavanaugh," 10 July 2018

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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Dictionary Entries near govern

gouty stem







Statistics for govern

Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for govern

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

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More Definitions for govern



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 \
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 \

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 \ 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

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playful or foolish behavior

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