“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”
These words are the opening lines of the preamble to the United States Constitution, and they’re well-recognized as a result.
Grammatically speaking, there are some really interesting things going on in the Constitution.
For starters, can something actually be “more perfect”? Couldn’t the founding fathers have just called the English King “worser“?
A more important concept in the U.S. Constitution is the separation of powers.
Let’s talk more about this concept and the grammar behind it.
How do you use “separation of powers” in a sentence?
The phrase “separation of powers” refers to setting up checks and balances between a government’s branches by limiting what each can do to a single thing. You can use “separation of powers” in a sentence to talk about politics or metaphorically to talk about any other “distribution” of power.
The context of “separation of powers”
In its modern sense, the phrase “separation of powers” is used almost exclusively to describe how a government distributes power.
You may also see this idea referred to as that of “checks and balances.”
Although the idea itself is older, the modern notion of a “separation of powers” comes from Baron de Montesquieu, an 18th century philosopher who set forth the idea of separating (or “distributing”) political power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of a government.
For a refresher, here’s what those branches do:
- Executive branch – Runs the daily business of a country
- Legislative branch – Writes and passes laws
- Judicial branch – Makes sure laws are followed
Montesquieu is also the reason the separation of powers plays such an important role in the U.S. Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton, founding father and a key architect of the new nation’s government, was a strong advocate for the creation of a judicial branch that was separate from the executive and legislative branches.
As with anything political, things get complicated very quickly even if you don’t need to figure out what 4D chess is.
For our purposes, all you need to know is that the phrase “separation of powers” refers to a political concept where one branch of government is stopped from gaining too much power by limits placed on what they can do.
Grammar and usage of “separation of powers”
Grammatically, “separation of powers” is a noun phrase.
That means it centers on a noun (“separation”) and you can use it in a sentence as you would any other noun.
There aren’t any specific grammar rules to follow for noun phrases, but make sure you understand the political meaning of the phrase and how it applies in the government you’re discussing.
If you hear this phrase used outside of politics, it’s probably being used for comedic effect or to draw attention to the ways that people might ensure they can’t be taken advantage of.
How to Use “Separation of Powers in a Sentence
This example shows one of the “checks and balances” that the U.S. Congress has over the executive branch: removing a president from office.
In this ironic example, “separation of powers” is used metaphorically to refer to household chores.
Bonus: what is the oldest example of “separation of powers”?
Words and phrases often have a lengthy history. When we’re talking about political systems, that history tends to be part fantasy.
In the case of “separation of powers,” the idea of a “mixed political system” first apperas in in Aristotle’s Politics in the 4th century BCE.
However, the first government that practiced separation of powers was in ancient Sparta, where Lycurgus implemented reforms to ensure that the people and their kings both had a role in government.
It’s not clear Lycurgus really existed, but he supposedly ruled Sparta in the 9th century BCE, making the concept of “separation of powers” nearly 3,000 years old.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.