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


boss, captain, command, control, preside (over), rule, sway [archaic]

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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

This is different than most other Catholic schools in the city, which are diocesan and governed by the archdiocese. Arika Herron, Indianapolis Star, "Brebeuf Jesuit is no longer part of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. What that means for the school.," 21 June 2019 His principle of governing since 2012 has been to enforce the party’s supremacy as the paternalistic guiding force, stamping out independent thought and action. The Washington Post, Twin Cities, "Other voices: Hong Kong’s protests were an inspiring rebuke. Now comes the anxiety.," 20 June 2019 The county recoups the funds owed on the accounts via the sale, the process of which is governed by state law. David Anderson,, "With taxes owed on 273 fewer properties Harford County recoups more than $800,000 in annual tax sale," 19 June 2019 Facebook said Tuesday the network underpinning the new cryptocurrency would be governed by the Libra Association, an independent, not-for-profit organization based in Geneva. Parmy Olson, WSJ, "Facebook Unveils Cryptocurrency Libra in Bid to Reshape Finance," 18 June 2019 Eventually, Tyler’s world expanded into starring on TV shows, hosting music festivals and presiding over his Flog Gnaw empire that was more governed by his own idiosyncratic tastes than anything related to his former group. Maeve Mcdermott, USA TODAY, "The best albums of 2019 so far, from Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish and more," 18 June 2019 El Sobrante is not a city, but rather a community that includes parts of Richmond and San Pablo and unincorporated land governed by Contra Costa County. Michael Cabanatuan,, "Petition calls for removal of giant swastika from El Sobrante home," 12 June 2019 Any permit request required a public comment period, a task force, and months of deliberation, governed not only by the MMPA but also the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Sallie Tisdale, Harper's magazine, "Catechism of the Waters," 10 June 2019 The school will offer pre-K, but those enrollment numbers were removed from the request because pre-K is governed by the Department of Early Childhood Education., "Threats, bullying delayed progress at Alabama charter school, officials say," 7 June 2019

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

26 Jun 2019

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 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).


to take the place or position of

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