What Does Checks and Balances Mean?

Checks and Balances Meaning

Definition: A self-regulating system, usually an organization or government, which ensures that no authoritative branch receives more power than another.

The phrase checks and balances refers to a system in which all authoritative groups hold equal power and regulate one another. It is commonly used to refer to the structure of the American government. However, it can be used to refer to any system in which branches hold equal power and are required to regulate each other.

Origin of Checks and Balances

define checks and balancesThe concept of checks and balances is attributed to 18th-century French political philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu. Checks and balances is most commonly used to refer to the three branches of government in American politics: legislative, judicial, and executive. In theory, these branches regulate each other, ensuring no single branch has absolute power.

For example, a law originates in the legislative branch, which is Congress. If the executive branch – the president – does not support the law, he may choose to veto it—which Congress can then overturn with a two-thirds majority. Similarly, the judicial system, comprising the Supreme Court and the federal court system, may also choose to rule the law unconstitutional.

Although this phrase is most commonly used in reference to government, it can be used to refer to any system in which the people or groups in authority hold equal power and regulate one another.

Examples of Checks and Balances

synonym for checks and balancesThis sample conversation between a manager and her employee illustrates the correct use of checks and balances.

Denise: You’re not authorized to create accounts for new clients unless you consult me first. Our company operates on a system of checks and balances to protect clients.

Maria: I’m sorry, boss. Won’t happen again.

More Examples

  • There has been a lot of action on the order in the courts today, and the disputes may be the first serious test of how the Trump Administration will deal with checks and balances. –The Washington Post
  • “There is a lack of proper checks and balances to prevent, deter and detect errors and misappropriations.” –LA Times


The English phrase checks and balances refers to a system that includes several branches of power, with each branch holding equal amounts of power and regulating one another. This phrase is generally found in discussions of governing systems.