Both "govenor" and its adjective form, "gubernatorial", originally derive from the same Latin word "gubernare" (to govern) yet we use root "govern" in all contexts ("govern", "government", "governor", "governing", "governmental"...) except for "gubernatorial."

Why is "gubernatorial" the odd man out?

Also, is this just an American thing? In Australia, we also have governors but I've never heard the word used outside of the context of American politics.

  • 4
    Random thought: Arnold the Gubernator does not sound as scary as Arnold the Governator
    – mplungjan
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 9:50
  • 3
    It's not too unusual for English titles and offices to have adjectival forms borrowed more directly from Latin or Greek: see also bishop/episcopal, deacon/diaconal. Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 23:24

4 Answers 4


Governor (dated 13th century) comes from gouernour (“personal keeper, protector, guide”), from the Old French governeor (11th century), itself form the Latin gubernator. The same can be said from other compounds with this root: govern comes from Old French governer, etc.

Gubernatorial, on the other hand, is more recent (dated 1734 by Etymonline) and was formed directly from the Latin root gubernator, hence the difference.

On the reason why thoses two didn't merge (or haven't merge yet, as they well may in the future), it's hard to say. It's worth noting that gubernator has seen a rare but continued used since the 15th century (1,2), and governatorial shows some increase in usage (though still rare) for the last century (3).

  • The question related to why a words that share the same original etymology would arrive in English via different routes. I think your answer of "it's hard to say" is probably correct - language is not a precise science.
    – dave
    Commented May 28, 2011 at 20:42

It is true that "governor" came from Latin, however, itwas influenced by French:

Origin: 1250–1300; Middle English governour < Old French governeor, gouverneur < Latin gubernātōrem, accusative of gubernātor = gubernā(re) to steer, govern + -tor -tor

The term "gubernatorial" is a result of Americanism, and is therefore a little different, even if it came from the same Latin roots:

Origin: 1725–35, Americanism ; < Latin gubernātōr- (stem of gubernātor ) steersman, governor + -ial

as well as

gubernatorial 1734, formed in Amer.Eng. from L. gubernator

  • 1
    Sources for your quotes?
    – F'x
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 8:15
  • Here is for gubernatorial, and here is for governor.
    – Thursagen
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 8:16

There are SEVERAL GOOD REASONS why this won't change:

  1. Gubernatorial is an unambiguous, exact term for 'office of a state Governor'. Alternates could include:
    • Governor's office (two words, longer, possessive);
    • Governatorial (governor + natorial): birth of a governor? Related to all government? who or what is this?
    • Governorial: better alternative, but not used.
  2. Institutional Momentum. People won't change using a term unless there is a clear advantage in doing so, in understandability or clarity of meaning, spelling, pronunciation, similarity to other words, etc.
  3. Just changing from 'gubernatorial' to 'governatorial' might be seen as a SPELLING change. Spelling changes are VERY slow to accomplish, especially with more obscure words like this. Instead, most spelling changes are seen in advertisements to simplify/shorten or attract attention ('drive thru' vs. 'drive through').
  4. The people affected most by this are news organizations, not average folk. News organizations live/die by rules issued by, and very infrequently revised by, committees of older, traditionalist journalists on a few major papers.
  5. Normal folk and average conversations don't use this 'gubernatorial' anyway. They use the phrase 'governor's race' or 'governor's office', and resort to 'gubernatorial' is they think their audience will understand it. IMHO, LANGUAGE CHANGES COME FROM BELOW and force their way into media slowly.

Thus, it seems as if 'gubernatorial' isn't going to change soon. It might be replaced, but only if the above momentum is overcome by some specific language need that isn't obvious at this point.

  • 1
    This doesn't attempt to answer the question of how and why gubernatorial came into use, only offering reasons why it wouldn't fall out of use.
    – choster
    Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 21:17
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    In reply to choster - all we know from records is that this word was formed in the early stages of US government to describe a particular office and electoral process. As a new state formed to encompass various groups of European settlers and distinguish itself culturally and intellectually, I don't find it surprising that a new word would be taken directly from Latin and not the conventional English development of the root. Of course this is pure speculation but it seems reasonable; I have no sources to support it. I'm just drunk and belligerent.
    – Celia
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 0:14

The problem with using the english form of the root ("govern") is that the word for governor is "governor" and not "governator". This means that unless we want to think of something very weird, we would have to use "governorial". I am sure we can agree on how weird that word sounds (if anything, it sounds like a name of a rodent). Because the english language (and probably most other languages) is defined and changed solely by how people speak it, I am sure that that is the reason that we use "gubernatorial". (The word used in most languages sounds like "gubernator", and not like "gubernor".)

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