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[guhv-ern] /ˈgʌv ərn/
verb (used with object)
to rule over by right of authority:
to govern a nation.
to exercise a directing or restraining influence over; guide:
the motives governing a decision.
to hold in check; control:
to govern one's temper.
to serve as or constitute a law for:
the principles governing a case.
Grammar. to be regularly accompanied by or require the use of (a particular form). In They helped us, the verb helped governs the objective case of the pronoun we.
to regulate the speed of (an engine) with a governor.
verb (used without object)
to exercise the function of government.
to have predominating influence.
Origin of govern
1250-1300; Middle English < Old French gouverner < Latin gubernāre to steer (a ship) < Greek kybernân to steer
Related forms
governable, adjective
governability, governableness, noun
overgovern, verb (used with object)
regovern, verb (used with object)
supergovern, verb (used with object)
ungoverned, adjective
ungoverning, adjective
well-governed, adjective
1. reign. See rule. 2. control, sway, influence, conduct, supervise, superintend.
1. obey. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for govern
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It contained the rules that govern the use of the Reading Room.

    Chimney-Pot Papers Charles S. Brooks
  • In America there are no masters, who govern in their own rights, for their own interests, or at their own will.

    America First Various
  • Was there no Florentine then, of all this rich and eager crowd, who was fit to govern Florence?

    Val d'Arno John Ruskin
  • He knew that without his help the weak, gentle king was unable to govern.

  • The old men are much respected by the younger, who seem to be govern'd and directed by them on most Occasions.

British Dictionary definitions for govern


verb (mainly transitive)
(also intransitive) to direct and control the actions, affairs, policies, functions, etc, of (a political unit, organization, nation, etc); rule
to exercise restraint over; regulate or direct: to govern one's temper
to be a predominant influence on (something); decide or determine (something): his injury governed his decision to avoid sports
to control the speed of (an engine, machine, etc) using a governor
to control the rate of flow of (a fluid) by using an automatic valve
(of a word) to determine the inflection of (another word): Latin nouns govern adjectives that modify them
Derived Forms
governable, adjective
governability, governableness, noun
Word Origin
C13: from Old French gouverner, from Latin gubernāre to steer, from Greek kubernan
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for govern

late 13c., from Old French governer (11c., Modern French gouverner) "govern," from Latin gubernare "to direct, rule, guide, govern" (cf. Spanish gobernar, Italian governare), originally "to steer," a nautical borrowing from Greek kybernan "to steer or pilot a ship, direct" (the root of cybernetics). The -k- to -g- sound shift is perhaps via the medium of Etruscan. Related: Governed; governing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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