legislative branch

[ lej-is-ley-tiv branch ]
/ ˈlɛdʒ ɪsˌleɪ tɪv ˌbræntʃ /
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the branch of government having the power to make laws; the legislature.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is the legislative branch?

The legislative branch is the branch of government responsible for creating laws.

In the United States, the federal and state governments are divided into three parts—the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch.

For both federal and state governments, only the legislative branch is given the power of legislation, that is, the power to create and pass laws. Federally, this power is given by the Constitution of the United States. In the states, this power is given by the state constitutions.

At the national level, the legislative branch takes the form of Congress, which is divided into the Senate and the House of Representatives. Several major powers are reserved for Congress alone. Not only can it create and pass laws, but it can also declare war, create an annual budget for the government, and approve federal appointments, such as the president’s Cabinet and federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, among other powers.

Most state legislatures have similar powers on a state level, although, notably, they can’t declare war.

Why is legislative branch important?

In the United States, the legislative branch of the federal government is established in Article I, Section I of the Constitution, which was written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. Although the Constitution doesn’t use the term legislative branch, this term has long been used to refer to Congress.

Why does the legislative branch exist? When creating their new government, the Founding Fathers wanted a government free of tyranny or absolute rule, so they divided the federal government into three equally powerful branches. Each branch has powers it can use to keep the others in check. This creates what is called a separation of powers through a system of checks and balances. For example, Congress’s power to create laws is kept in check by the executive branch’s power to veto a law and the judicial branch’s power to declare a law unconstitutional.

Perhaps the ultimate check on Congress’s power is that each member is elected to their position by the people the member serves. This is true at both the federal and state levels.

Did you know ... ?

The U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands of the United States, are represented in the legislative branch, the representation is limited. They all have a representative in the House of Representatives, but they are unable to vote on any legislation. None of these territories have any representation in the Senate.

What are real-life examples of legislative branch?

This photograph shows the United States Capitol Building, where Congress meets to perform the duties of the legislative branch.


Americans can easily reach out to members of the legislative branch through social media.


Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Of the three branches of government, only the legislative branch has the power to change existing laws.

How to use legislative branch in a sentence

Cultural definitions for legislative branch

legislative branch
[ (lej-i-slay-tiv) ]

The branch of the federal and state government empowered to make the laws that are then enforced by the executive branch and interpreted by the judicial branch. The legislative branch consists of Congress and the fifty state legislatures. At both state and federal levels, legislatures are made up of popularly elected representatives, who propose laws that are sensitive to the needs and interests of their local constituents. After a law is proposed as a bill, it is sent to appropriate committees for several stages of discussion, research, and modification. It is then debated in both legislative houses — except in Nebraska, which has a single-house legislature — and put to a vote. If the law is passed, it is still subject to further modification and final vote by both houses. Under the system of checks and balances, the president can refuse to sign the bill into law (through the veto power). The legislature can then vote to override the veto. Other checks and balances include legislative powers to impeach public officials (see impeachment), confirm appointments to the executive and judicial branches, and vote on appropriations.

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.