House of Representatives

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the lower legislative branch in many national and state bicameral governing bodies, as in the United States, Mexico, and Japan. Abbreviations:H.R., HR
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is the House of Representatives?

The House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the United States Congress and is often referred to as “the House.” The number of representatives each state has in the House of Representatives is proportional to its population.

Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government, meaning it creates federal, or nationwide, laws. It is divided into two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Every US state is represented by at least one member of the House, known as a representative. The number of representatives a state gets is determined by its population as calculated in the US Census. The total membership of the House includes representatives of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, who attend House meetings but are unable to vote.

Members of the House of Representatives represent citizens in their state’s congressional districts and serve two-year terms. They are elected by citizens in their district.

While either house can draft a law, both houses must vote on it and the bill must receive a majority vote in both houses in order to be given to the president, who then signs it into law.

The Senate and the House must also agree in order to exercise some of Congress’s other powers. Both houses must agree to declare war or create new taxes, for example.

The House of Representatives has several powers on its own, such as drafting all revenue bills, deciding who will be president if there is no majority in the Electoral College, and impeaching all executive officers, including the president.

Why is the House of Representatives important?

The House of Representatives, along with Congress as a whole, was established by the US Constitution, the document that serves as the fundamental law of the country. Article I, Section 1 states, “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.”

Article I, Section 2 established the House of Representatives specifically and outlines its structure and rules of membership. The rest of Article I specifically states the powers and responsibilities of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and Congress.

The House of Representatives was envisioned as the house of Congress that would best represent the will of the people because members would be directly elected by the people. (Senators were elected by their state’s legislatures until 1913; today a state’s citizens elect its senators.)

Even in early American history, though, the House of Representatives has been plagued by a problem that hasn’t affected the Senate. Congressional districts are determined by state governments, which often distribute them in a way that gives an unfair advantage to one political party, a practice called gerrymandering. This unfair practice is extremely unpopular with voters. Despite this, the Supreme Court has continued to leave redistricting policies up to the states.

Did you know … ?

In the 1824 election, no presidential candidate achieved the majority of electoral votes needed to win the presidential election. The House of Representatives exercised its power and chose John Quincy Adams as president over candidate Andrew Jackson. Jackson supporters’ referred to this decision as the “Corrupt Bargain” because Adams had a suspiciously close relationship with House speaker Henry Clay, who Adams would later choose to be Secretary of State.

What are real-life examples of House of Representatives?

This photograph shows the chamber of the House of Representatives.


As is often the case in politics, Americans talk a lot about the House of Representatives and its members on social media.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms.

How to use House of Representatives in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for House of Representatives

House of Representatives

(in the US) the lower chamber of Congress
(in Australia) the lower chamber of Parliament
the sole chamber of New Zealand's Parliament: formerly the lower chamber
(in the US) the lower chamber in many state legislatures
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 House of Representatives

House of Representatives

The lower house of the United States Congress. With 435 popularly elected officials, the House (as it is often called) is the most representative body in the federal government. House seats are apportioned (see apportionment) relative to each state's population. Because of its larger size, the House tends to maintain a closer link to local constituent concerns than the Senate, though both houses of Congress participate in virtually all aspects of legislation and policymaking. The Speaker of the House is one of the most influential officials in Washington, D.C., and is second in succession to the presidency, after the vice president.

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.