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[guhv-er-nis] /ˈgʌv ər nɪs/
a woman who is employed to take charge of a child's upbringing, education, etc.
Archaic. a woman who is a ruler or governor.
Origin of governess
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English governeress < Old French gouverneresse, feminine of gouverneur governor; see -ess
Related forms
governessy, adjective
subgoverness, noun
undergoverness, noun
Usage note
See -ess. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for governess
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Think of a mere governess, her daughter's governess, coming to that high distinction!

    Little Dorrit Charles Dickens
  • In the first place, I could not talk about it with my governess, as she would not discuss the piece at all.

    My Double Life Sarah Bernhardt
  • Every morning I went to the Conservatoire with my governess.

    My Double Life Sarah Bernhardt
  • I did not insist, but I sent for my son's governess, Mlle. Soubise.

    My Double Life Sarah Bernhardt
  • Your governess cannot win the confidence and respect of your children, forsooth!

  • She was a governess in the house of one of his friends in ——.

    The First Violin Jessie Fothergill
British Dictionary definitions for governess


a woman teacher employed in a private household to teach and train the children
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 governess

mid-15c., "female ruler," shortening of governouresse "a woman who rules" (late 14c.), from Old French governeresse "female ruler or administrator" (see governor + -ess); in the sense of "a female teacher in a private home" it is attested from 1712.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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