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 The courtroom became a circus, a spectacle governed by bigotry, not the rule of law. Andrea Simakis, cleveland, "Kander and Ebb’s ‘The Scottsboro Boys’ at the Beck Center entrances as it weaves its story of savage racial injustice," 16 Feb. 2020 Many groups doing ICOs funneled their funds into foundations in places like Switzerland, governed by bylaws that required the money be used to build relevant technology. Gregory Barber, Wired, "This Social Network Wants to Pay You (in Crypto) to Do Good," 14 Feb. 2020 The population has grown to 700,000 residents and is governed by a mayor and city council. Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, "Democrats advance DC statehood in House," 11 Feb. 2020 The negotiations, governed by a long list of ground rules, would aim to develop new rules for the 2022 legislative session and begin the process of seeking needed federal approval. oregonlive, "Oregon environmental groups, timber companies strike landmark compromise, signaling end to November ballot fight," 10 Feb. 2020 Kidde Combination Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Lithium Battery P3010CU The rules for smoke detectors in residences are governed by federal, state, and local regulations. Popular Science, "Fire safety equipment everyone should own," 10 Feb. 2020 Their consciences bear a discomfort governed by their love for America and the reputation of their faith. Andrew T. Walker, National Review, "Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump," 10 Feb. 2020 Rough diamond prices are subjective but are governed by color, clarity, and weight. Ed Caesar, The New Yorker, "The Woman Shaking Up the Diamond Industry Finds Yet Another Huge Gem," 8 Feb. 2020 Of course, not every virus particle contains a quantum dot, because the incorporation process is governed by the random chance of what bumps into what else inside the nucleus. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Virus tricked into glowing reveals entryway to cellular victim," 2 Feb. 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

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Govern.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 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

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