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From Middle English governesse, a contracted form of governeresse, from Old French governeresse (female ruler or administrator). In later senses, equivalent to govern(or) +‎ -ess.


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈɡʌvɚnəs/
  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈɡʌvənəs/, /ˈɡʌvnəs/
  • Audio (US):(file)



governess (plural governesses, masculine governor)

  1. A woman paid to educate children in their own home.
    Synonym: (nonstandard) governoress
    • 1917, Anton Chekhov, translated by Constance Garnett, An Upheaval:
      [Mashenka Pavletsky] returning from a walk to the house of the Kushkins, with whom she was living as a governess, found the household in a terrible turmoil.
    • 1990 January 12, Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes (comic):
      Boy, you are a crabby lady! Who are you? Calvin's cruel governess?
    • September 8 2022, Stephen Bates, “Queen Elizabeth II obituary”, in The Guardian[1]:
      it was then still just possible to have a relatively normal life at the family’s 25-bedroom mansion at 145 Piccadilly, from where the baby was taken for a two-hour constitutional in her pram to Hyde Park and back every day by her governess.
  2. (dated) A female governor.
    Synonyms: (dated) governoress, (rare) gubernatrix
    • 1927 January 21, “Hints and Dints”, in New Castle News, volume XLVII, number 117, New Castle, Pa., page four, columns 4–5:
      “The Gates Ajar” seems to be the favorite song and inspiration of Ma Ferguson in her four years as governor. The lady governess pardoned criminals as soon as they were convicted and was so chronic in her actions that the courts had just about refused to function in convicting anyone.
    • 2008, @tiredofher, CNN[2], archived from the original on 11 April 2023:
      I cannot begin to tell you how tired I am of this woman and all she stands for and all those shallow people who think an Alaskan governess has what it takes to be a VP.
  3. (dated) The wife of a governor.
    Synonym: (dated) governoress
    • 1697, The Ingenious and Diverting Letters of the Lady ⸺ Travels into Spain. [], 4th edition, London: [] Samuel Crouch [], page 22:
      The Lady Governeſs of the Town drew near to me; []
    • 1814, Benjamin Heyne, “Journal of a Tour from Bengalore to Trichinopoly, in 1802”, in Tracts, Historical and Statistical, on India; with Journals of Several Tours through Various Parts of the Peninsula: Also, an Account of Sumatra, in a Series of Letters, London: [] Robert Baldwin, []; and Black, Parry, and Co. [], page 345:
      The common wood strawberry, which was introduced by the Right Hon. Lady Powis [Henrietta Clive, Countess of Powis] when Governess at Madras, grows in great luxuriance and of delightful flavour.
    • 1888, Dayaram Gidumal, The Life and Life-work of Behramji M. Malabari [], Bombay: [] [T]he Education Society’s Press, [], page 282:
      I was pressed to make a halt at Ahmedabad for a few days; then asked to stay for a few hours; finally, for half an hour, to see “the Governor and Governess” of Madras.

Derived terms






governess (third-person singular simple present governesses, present participle governessing, simple past and past participle governessed)

  1. To work as governess; to educate children in their own home.