[ noun kong-gris; verb kuhn-gres, kuhng- ]
/ noun ˈkɒŋ grɪs; verb kənˈgrɛs, kəŋ- /
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See synonyms for: congress / congressed / congressing on Thesaurus.com

Definition of congress

verb (used without object)
to assemble together; meet in congress.
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Origin of congress

First recorded in 1350–1400 for earlier sense “body of attendants, following”; Middle English, from Latin congressus “assembly, intercourse, meeting,” equivalent to congred(ī) “to approach, meet” (con- “with, together” + -gredī, combining form of gradī “to step”) + -tus suffix of verbal action; see con-; cf. grade


pre-Congress, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is Congress?

Congress is the federal legislative body of the United States, which is responsible for passing federal, or nationwide, laws.

In the United States, Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government. Only it can create and pass federal laws.

Congress is divided into two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate is commonly referred to as the “upper house” and consists of 100 members (called senators), two from each of the 50 states. The House of Representatives (often shortened to “the House”) has 435 voting members, known as representatives. The size of a state’s population determines how many representatives that state gets. All members of Congress are elected by the citizens of the state they represent.

Congress has many powers, such as to introduce new taxes, to admit new states to the United States, and to declare war. Most of Congress’s work is creating and passing federal laws.

Because all US federal laws are created by it, Congress plays a huge role in Americans’ lives, even if most Americans don’t pay close attention to Congress’s daily activities.

Why is Congress important?

Congress was established by the US Constitution, the document that serves as the fundamental law of the country. Written in 1787 and accepted in 1788, the Constitution specifically uses the word Congress in Article I, Section 1, stating “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

The Constitution also specifically states which powers and responsibilities Congress would have. Due to the limited time Congress has to do its work, both houses have numerous smaller committees that spend time creating and debating bills before introducing them to the larger house. Despite this, Congress still often takes a long time to agree on the final version of a bill.

Did you know … ?

The United States Congress resembles the United Kingdom’s Parliament. This is on purpose. In fact, Senators used to be appointed by state legislatures, similar to how members of the House of Lords are appointed by the English monarch and the nobility.

What are real-life examples of Congress?

This photo depicts the United States Capitol Building, where both houses of Congress perform their daily responsibilities.

“US Capitol, west side” by Martin Falbisoner. Source: Wikipedia. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

​Most Americans know about Congress and its ability to make laws. Today, Congress is often frequently and passionately talked about by Americans on social media.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

In the United States, Congress has the power to make state laws.

How to use congress in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for congress (1 of 2)

/ (ˈkɒŋɡrɛs) /

a meeting or conference, esp of representatives of a number of sovereign states
a national legislative assembly
a society or association
sexual intercourse

Word Origin for congress

C16: from Latin congressus from congredī to meet with, from com- together + gradī to walk, step

British Dictionary definitions for congress (2 of 2)

/ (ˈkɒŋɡrɛs) /

the bicameral federal legislature of the US, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate
this body during any two-year term
Also called: Congress Party (in India) a major political party, which controlled the Union government from 1947 to 1977Official name: Indian National Congress

Derived forms of Congress

Congressional, adjective
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

Cultural definitions for congress


The legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Popularly elected, senators and representatives are responsible for advocating the interests of the constituents they represent. Numerous congressional committees are organized to study issues of public policy, recommend action, and, ultimately, pass laws. Congress plays an important role in the system of checks and balances; in fact, the two-house (bicameral) organization of Congress acts as an internal check, for each house must separately vote to pass a bill for it to become a law. In addition to lawmaking, Congress has a variety of functions, including appropriation of funds for executive and judicial activities; instituting taxes and regulating commerce; declaring war and raising and supporting a military; setting up federal courts and conducting impeachment proceedings; and approving presidential appointments.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.