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Does the word "government" in English refer to the cabinet and the ministries, or the courts and legislature as well? Is there a difference in usage depending on country?

Can you say "the government resigned", "the party has three people in the government", "the government filed an appeal to the court" or can you replace the word "court" with the word "government"?

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closed as general reference by Robusto, coleopterist, FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt Sep 25 '12 at 13:57

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Yes and no - depends on context. Take court justices, for instance. Who cuts them a paycheck? The government – hence, they are government employees, and part of the government. But government can also refer to legislature, or political parties (as in, a socialist government). Justices are supposed to be above or apart from that, so there could be other contexts where someone insists that judges are not part of the government, and that might be a valid way of looking at it, too. – J.R. Sep 26 '12 at 2:06
@J.R. is not it the state who fills the check, and not the government? – Anixx Dec 27 '14 at 11:43
@Anixx - the phrase government check can be used to refer to a check issued by the government – which might be a paycheck issued to a government employee, a welfare payment issued to a social program beneficiary, or a pension check for a retiree. (Nowadays, though, most of that money gets deposited electronically, so the term "government check" is often a metaphor in contemporary usage.) – J.R. Dec 27 '14 at 12:08
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The usage in English is quite different in the UK than in the US. Note the sharp differences in Barrie and Bib's answers.

As I understand it, in the UK -- and I'm not British, so I say this tentatively, but I think this is correct -- they generally use the word "government" to refer just to the ministers of the ruling party. In the US, "government" includes the entire executive, legistalature, and judiciary at all levels.

An American would be unlikely to say "the government filed an appeal to the court", because the court is also considered part of the government. We wold say "the ADMINISTRATION filed an appeal with the court".

An American would never say (speaking of his own government, I mean), "the government resigned". We might say "the president resigned". In the US an individual office holder can resign, but the party in power does not resign as a whole. And if there was some incredible circumstance where they did, we still wouldn't say "the government has resigned" because the other party, if they hold any seats in the legistlature at all, is considered part of the government.

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In the UK, the government consists of those who hold ministerial office. They include both those who are in charge of the various departments of state and those who have junior roles. The Cabinet is a committee made up of the former, and others as appropriate. Whether the judiciary can ever be considered to be part of the government is a matter of constitutional law, not of English. In general usage it is not, and in democratic countries it is important that it is seen to be independent.

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I believe that, in some countries, government may refer to a particular elected administration. However, I will leave that to my colleagues who know better.

In the US, the term government is used to refer to both elected and career officals, as well as many public servants at virtually every level. Generally teachers, firefighters, police officers and others providing "street-level" services would probably not be referred to as the government (although they would be said to work for the government). However, the senior officials in their departments, and virtually all employees working in fedral and state agencies (labor, housing, military, transportation, etc.) would generally be considered part of the government.

Obviously, government also includes elected officals such as the executive (president, governor, mayor, town supervisor), as well as the legislature (congressperson, state legislator, city councilperson). Judges (both elected and appointed) would generally be considered part of the government.

Where there is a reference to the government taking an action, it depends on the context as to what part of government it means. In the phrase the government filed an appeal, the reference is generally to the executive branch of government and the court where the appeal is filed is seen as distinct (and hopefully, independent).

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So, "government" in the US just means "the state"? – Anixx Dec 27 '14 at 11:41
Yes, but the term state in the US is sometimes used to mean the overall (or any aspect of) the government; at other times it is used to refer to the geographic and political subunits of the country, the individual states (such as the State of New York or Oregon). – bib Jan 3 '15 at 14:44

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