A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative
or other purposes, in certain modern nations. The term is derived
Old French conté or cunté denoting a jurisdiction under the
sovereignty of a count (earl) or a viscount. The modern French is
comté, and its equivalents in other languages are contea, contado,
comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, Gau, etc. (cf. conte, comte,
Normans conquered England, they brought the term with them.
Saxons had already established the districts that became the
historic counties of England, calling them shires (many county
names derive from the name of the county town (county seat) with the
word "shire" added on: for example,
The Anglo-Saxon's "earl" and "earldom" were taken as equivalent to the
continental use of "count" and "county" under the conquering Normans,
and over time the two blended and became equivalent terms. Further,
the later-imported term became a synonym for the native English word
scir ([ʃiːr]) or, in Modern English, shire. Since a shire was an
administrative division of the kingdom, the term "county" evolved to
designate an administrative division of states (federal states like
those of Germany and the United States) or of a national government in
most other modern uses.
In the United States and Canada, founded 600 years later[a] on the
British traditions, counties are usually an administrative division
set by convenient geographical demarcations, which in governance have
certain officeholders (e.g. Sheriffs and their departments) as a part
of the state/province mechanisms, including geographically common
A county may be further subdivided into districts, hundreds, townships
or other administrative jurisdictions within the county. A county
usually, but not always, contains cities, towns, townships, villages,
or other municipal corporations, which in most cases are somewhat
subordinate, or dependent upon county governments. Depending on the
nation and the municipality and local geography, municipalities may or
may not be subject to direct or indirect county control—the
functions of both levels are often consolidated into a city government
when the area is densely populated.[b]
Outside English-speaking countries, an equivalent of the term "county"
is often used to describe sub-national jurisdictions that are
structurally equivalent to counties in the relationship they have with
their national government;[c] but which may not be administratively
equivalent to counties in predominantly English-speaking countries.
4 People's Republic of China
17 New Zealand
22 Taiwan (Republic of China)
23 United Kingdom
24 United States
27 External links
Provinces in Argentina are divided into departments (departamentos),
except in the
Buenos Aires Province, where they are called partidos.
Buenos Aires is divided into communes
In the eastern states of Australia, counties are used in the
administration of land titles. They do not generally correspond to a
level of government, but are used in the identification of parcels of
Canada's five oldest provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia,
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island – are divided into
counties. In those older provinces that have a two-tier system of
municipal government, the counties constitute the upper tier and local
municipalities form the lower tier. In addition to counties, Ontario
is also subdivided into territorial districts, district
municipalities, metropolitan municipalities, and regional
municipalities which are also part of the upper tier. British Columbia
is divided into regional districts that form the upper tier. They are
subdivided into local municipalities that are partly autonomous, and
unincorporated electoral areas that are governed directly by the
regional districts. The rest of Canada has only one level of municipal
government. Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest
Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, and
Yukon use their municipalities
as regional and local subdivisions without any real differentiation
between the two. In Alberta, a "county" used to be a type of
designation in a single-tier municipal system; but this was changed to
"municipal district" under the Municipal Government Act, when the
County Act was repealed in the mid-1990s, at which time they were also
permitted to retain the usage of county in their official names.
People's Republic of China
Main article: Counties of the People's Republic of China
The word "county" is used to translate the Chinese term xiàn (县 or
縣). In Mainland China, governed by the People's Republic of China
(PRC), counties are the third level of local government, coming under
both the province level and the prefecture level.
There are 1,464 counties in the PRC out of a total of 2,862
county-level divisions. The number of counties has remained more or
less constant since the
Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). The county
remains one of the oldest levels of government in China and
significantly predates the establishment of provinces in the Yuan
dynasty (1279–1368). The county government was particularly
important in imperial China because this was the lowest layer at which
the imperial government functioned. The head of a county during
imperial times was the magistrate.
In older context, "prefecture" and "district" are alternative terms to
refer to xiàn before the establishment of the Republic of China
(ROC). The English nomenclature "county" was adopted following the
establishment of the ROC.
Contrary to the typical rural location of a county in Western
countries (one notable exception being New York City, where each of
the city's boroughs is a county in New York State) a city in China may
enclose several counties. In this sense, a county is similar to a
district of a city. In the 19th century, Shanghai was a county of the
city of Songjiang, but today, Songjiang is a district of the city of
Main article: Counties of Denmark
Denmark was divided into counties (amter) from 1662 to 2006. On 1
January 2007 the counties were replaced by five Regions. At the same
time, the number of municipalities was slashed to 98.
The counties were first introduced in 1662, replacing the 49 fiefs
Denmark–Norway with the same number of counties. This
number does not include the subdivisions of the
Duchy of Schleswig,
which was only under partial Danish control. The number of counties in
Denmark (excluding Norway) had dropped to c. 20 by 1793. Following the
reunification of South Jutland with
Denmark in 1920, four counties
replaced the Prussian Kreise. Aabenraa and
Sønderborg County merged
in 1932 and Skanderborg and Aarhus were separated in 1942. From 1942
to 1970, the number stayed at 22. The number was further decreased
by the 1970 Danish municipal reform, leaving 14 counties plus two
cities unconnected to the county structure;
Bornholm County merged with the local five municipalities,
Bornholm Regional Municipality. The remaining 13 counties
were abolished on 1 January 2007 where they were replaced by five new
regions. In the same reform, the number of municipalities was slashed
from 270 to 98 and all municipalities now belong to a region.
A comté was a territory ruled by a count (comte) in medieval France.
In modern France, the rough equivalent of a "county" as used in many
English-speaking countries is a department.
For the situation in Germany compare Kreise. Each administrative
district consists of an elected council and an executive, and whose
duties are comparable to those of a county executive in the United
States, supervising local government administration. Historically,
counties in the
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire were called Grafschaften.
Counties of Hungary
Counties of Hungary and Administrative divisions of the
Kingdom of Hungary
The administrative unit of
Hungary is called megye (historically, they
were also called vármegye, or comitatus in Latin), which can be
translated with the word county. The 19 counties constitute the
highest level of the administrative subdivisions of the country
together with the capital city Budapest, although counties and the
capital are grouped into seven statistical regions.
Counties are subdivided to municipalities, the two types of which are
towns and villages, each one having their own elected mayor and
council. 23 of the towns have the rights of a county although they do
not form independent territorial units equal to counties.
Municipalities are grouped within counties into subregions
(kistérség in Hungarian), which have statistical and organizational
The vármegye was also the historic administrative unit in the Kingdom
of Hungary, which included areas of present-day neighbouring countries
of Hungary. Its
Latin name (comitatus) is the equivalent of the French
comté. Actual political and administrative role of counties changed
much through history. Originally they were subdivisions of the royal
administration, but from the 13th century A.D. they became
self-governments of the nobles and kept this character until the 19th
century when in turn they became modern local governments.
Main article: Counties of Iran
Counties of Iran
The ostans (provinces) of
Iran are further subdivided into counties
called shahrestan (Persian: شهرستان, shahrestān). County
consists of a city centre, a few bakhsh (Persian: بخش, bakhsh),
and many villages around them. There are usually a few cities
(Persian: شهر, shahar) and rural agglomerations (Persian:
دهستان, dehestān) in each county. Rural agglomerations are a
collection of a number of villages. One of the cities of the county is
appointed as the capital of the county.
Each shahrestan has a government office known as Farmandari, which
coordinates different events and government offices. The Farmandar, or
the head of Farmandari, is the governor of the Shahrestan.
Fars Province has the highest number of Shahrestans, with 23, while
Semnān and South Khorasan have only 4 Shahrestans each; Qom uniquely
has one, being coextensive with its namesake county.
Iran had 324
Shahrestans in 2005.
Counties of Ireland
Counties of Ireland and Counties of the United Kingdom
The island of
Ireland was historically divided into 32 counties, of
which 26 later formed the Republic of
Ireland and 6 made up Northern
These counties are traditionally grouped into 4 provinces - Leinster
Connacht (5) and
Ulster (9). Historically, the
counties of Meath, Westmeath and small parts of surrounding counties
constituted the province of Mide, which was one of the "Five Fifths"
Ireland (in the Irish language the word for province, Cúige, from
Cúig, five means "a fifth"); however, these have long since become
the three northernmost counties of
Leinster province. In the Republic
each county is administered by an elected "county council", and the
old provincial divisions are merely traditional names with no
The number and boundaries of administrative counties in the Republic
Ireland were reformed in the 1990s. For example,
County Dublin was
divided into three: Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, Fingal, and South
Dublin - the
City of Dublin had existed for centuries before. The
cities of Cork and
Galway have been separated from the town and rural
areas of their counties. The cities of
merged with their respective counties in 2014. Thus, the Republic of
Ireland now has thirty-one 'county-level' authorities, although the
borders of the original twenty-six counties are still officially in
In Northern Ireland, the six county councils and the smaller town
councils were abolished in 1973 and replaced by a single tier of local
government. However, in the north as well as in the south, the
traditional 32 counties and 4 provinces remain in common usage for
many sporting, cultural and other purposes.
County identity is heavily
reinforced in the local culture by allegiances to county teams in
Hurling and Gaelic football. Each
Gaelic Athletic Association
Gaelic Athletic Association county
has its own flag/colours (and often a nickname too), and county
allegiances are taken quite seriously. See the counties of
the Gaelic Athletic Association.
Italy the word county is not used; the administrative sub-division
of a region is called provincia. Italian provinces are mainly named
after their principal town and comprise several administrative
subdivisions called comuni (communes). There are currently 110
provinces in Italy.
In the context of pre-modern Italy, the Italian word contado generally
refers to the countryside surrounding, and controlled by, the city
state. The contado provided natural resources and agricultural
products to sustain the urban population. In contemporary usage,
contado can refer to a metropolitan area, and in some cases large
rural/suburban regions providing resources to distant cities.
Jamaica is divided into fourteen parishes which are grouped together
into three historic counties: Cornwall, Middlesex, and Surrey.
Main article: Counties of Kenya
Counties are the current second level political division in Kenya.
Each county has an assembly where members of the county assembly
(MCAs) sit. This assembly is headed by a Governor. Each county is also
represented in the
Senate of Kenya
Senate of Kenya by a senator. Additionally, a
Women's Representative is elected from each county to the Parliament
of Kenya to represent women's interests. Counties replaced provinces
as the second level division after the promulgation of the 2010
Constitution of Kenya.
Administrative divisions of North Korea
Administrative divisions of North Korea and
Administrative divisions of South Korea
County is the common English translation for the character 군 (gun or
kun) that denotes the current second level political division in South
Korea and one type of municipal-level division in North Korea.
Main article: Counties of Liberia
Liberia has 15 counties, each of which elects two senators to the
Apskritis (pl. apskritys) is the Lithuanian word for county. Since
Lithuania has 10 counties; before 1950 it had 20. The only
purpose with the county is an office of a state governor who shall
conduct law and order in the county. See counties of Lithuania.
Main article: Counties in New Zealand
After New Zealand abolished its provinces in 1876, a system of
counties similar to other countries' systems was instituted, lasting
until 1989. They had chairmen, not mayors as boroughs and cities had;
many legislative provisions (such as burial and land subdivision
control) were different for the counties.
During the second half of the 20th century, many counties received
overflow population from nearby cities. The result was often a merger
of the two into a "district" (e.g. Rotorua) or a change of name to
"district" (e.g. Waimairi) or "city" (e.g. Manukau City).
The Local Government Act 1974 began the process of bringing urban,
mixed, and rural councils into the same legislative framework.
Substantial reorganisations under that Act resulted in the 1989
shake-up, which covered the country in (non-overlapping) cities and
districts and abolished all the counties except for the Chatham
Islands County, which survived under that name for a further 6 years
but then became a "Territory" under the "
Chatham Islands Council".
Main article: Counties of Norway
Norway is divided into 19 counties (sing. fylke, plur. fylke/fylker)
since 1972. Up to that year
Bergen was a separate county, but is today
a municipality in the county of Hordaland. All counties form
administrative entities called county municipalities (sing.
fylkeskommune, plur. fylkeskommunar/fylkeskommuner), further
subdivided into municipalities, (sing. kommune, plur.
kommunar/kommuner). One county, Oslo, is not divided into
municipalities, rather it is equivalent to the municipality of Oslo.
Each county has its own county council (fylkesting) whose
representatives are elected every four years together with
representatives to the municipal councils. The counties handle matters
as high schools and local roads, and until 1 January 2002 hospitals as
well. This responsibility was transferred to the state-run health
authorities and health trusts, and there is a debate on the future of
the county municipality as an administrative entity. Some people, and
parties, such as the Conservative and Progress Party, call for the
abolishment of the county municipalities once and for all, while
others, including the Labour Party, merely want to merge some of them
into larger regions.
See also: List of counties in Poland
A second-level administrative division in
Poland is called a powiat.
(This is a subdivision of a voivodeship, or province, and is further
subdivided into gminas.) The term is often translated into English as
county (or sometimes district).
See also: Counties of Romania
Romania is divided into 41 jurisdictions. A jurisdiction is called a
The Romanian word for county, comitat, is not currently used for any
Romanian administrative divisions.
The Swedish division into counties was established in 1634, and was
based on an earlier division into Provinces.
Sweden is today divided
into 21 counties. At the county level there is a county administrative
board led by a governor appointed by the central government of Sweden,
as well as an elected county council that handles a separate set of
issues, notably hospitals and public transportation for the
municipalities within its borders.
The Swedish term used is län, which literally means "fief".
Taiwan (Republic of China)
County (Republic of China)
County is the common English translation for the character 縣 that
denotes the current first level political division in Taiwan and
surrounding islands. However, provincial cities have the same level of
authority as counties. Above county, there are special municipalities
(in effect) and province (suspended due to economical and political
There are currently 14 counties in Taiwan.
Main article: Counties of the United Kingdom
Ceremonial counties of England
The United Kingdom is divided into a number of metropolitan and
non-metropolitan counties. There are also ceremonial counties which
group small non-metropolitan counties into geographical areas broadly
based on the historic counties of England. In 1974, the metropolitan
and non-metropolitan counties replaced the system of administrative
counties and county boroughs which was introduced in 1889.
Most non-metropolitan counties in
England are run by county councils
and are divided into non-metropolitan districts, each with its own
council. Local authorities in the UK are usually responsible for
education, emergency services, planning, transport, social services,
and a number of other functions.
In England, in the Anglo-Saxon period, shires were established as
areas used for the raising of taxes, and usually had a fortified town
at their centre. This became known as the shire town or later the
county town. In many cases, the shires were named after their shire
town (for example Bedfordshire), but there are several exceptions,
such as Cumberland,
Norfolk and Suffolk. In several other cases, such
as Buckinghamshire, the modern county town is different from the town
for which the shire is named. (See Toponymical list of counties of the
The name "county" was introduced by the Normans, and was derived from
a Norman term for an area administered by a
Count (lord). These Norman
"counties" were simply the Saxon shires, and kept their Saxon names.
Several traditional counties, including Essex,
Sussex and Kent,
predate the unification of
England by Alfred the Great, and were
originally more or less independent kingdoms.
In Northern Ireland, the six county councils, if not their counties,
were abolished in 1973 and replaced by 26 local government districts.
The traditional six counties remain in common everyday use for many
cultural and other purposes.
The thirteen historic counties of Wales were fixed by statute in 1539
(although counties such as
Pembrokeshire date from 1138) and most of
the shires of Scotland are of at least this age. In the Gaelic form,
Scottish traditional county names are generally distinguished by the
designation siorramachd- literally "sherrifdom", e.g. Siorramachd
Earra-ghaidheal (Argyllshire). This term corresponds to the
jurisdiction of the sheriff in the Scottish legal system.
Until 1974, the county boundaries of
England changed little over time.
In the mediæval period, a number of important cities were granted the
status of counties in their own right, such as London,
Coventry, and numerous small exclaves such as
created. In 1844, most of these exclaves were transferred to their
In 1965 and 1974–1975, major reorganisations of local government in
England and Wales created several new administrative counties such as
Hereford and Worcester and also created several new metropolitan
counties based on large urban areas as a single administrative unit.
In Scotland, county-level local government was replaced by larger
regions, which lasted until 1996. Modern local government in Scotland,
Ireland and a large part of
England is trending
towards smaller unitary authorities: a system similar to that proposed
in the 1960s by the
Redcliffe-Maud Report for most of Britain.
The 3,142 counties and county equivalents of the United States
County (United States)
See also: List of United States counties and county equivalents
Counties in U.S. states are administrative divisions of the state in
which their boundaries are drawn; for example the territoriality
medium sized state of Pennsylvania has 67 counties delineated in
geographically convenient ways. By way of contrast, Massachusetts
with far less territory has massively sized counties in comparison
even to Pennsylvania's largest,[d] yet each organizes their judicial
and incarceration officials similarly. Today, 3,142 counties and
county equivalents carve up the United States, ranging in quantity
from 3 for
Delaware to 254 for Texas.
Where they exist, they are the intermediate tier of state government,
between the statewide tier and the immediately local government tier
(typically a city, town/borough or village/township). Counties have
functional purposes in 48 of the 50 states—usually judiciary, county
prisons and land registration—sometimes enforcement of building
codes, federally mandated services programs, and the like; the other
two states (
Connecticut and Rhode Island) have abolished their
counties as functional entities. Of these remaining 48 states, 46 use
the term "county" while
Alaska and Louisiana use the terms "borough"
and "parish", respectively, for analogous jurisdictions.
Depending on the individual state, counties or their equivalents may
be administratively subdivided into townships, boroughs or boros, or
towns (in the New
England states, New York, and Wisconsin).
Except in New England, where strong government at the town level has
historically existed since the area was settled, the township is
generally subordinate to the county, which is generally subordinate to
the state. In Virginia, however, all cities are independent and report
directly to the commonwealth government; but notwithstanding they are
not part of the county, they might operate as a county seat (e.g. the
City of Fairfax is the seat of Fairfax County, though it
is not legally within Fairfax County).
California has abolished its
townships, though many general law cities continue to use the word
"Town" as part of their name (e.g. "
Town of Atherton" when it is,
City of Atherton).
Alaska is divided into boroughs, which typically provide fewer local
services than do most U.S. counties, as the state government furnishes
many services directly. Some of Alaska's boroughs have merged
geographical boundaries and administrative functions with their
principal (and sometimes only) cities; these are known as unified
city-boroughs and result in some of Alaska's cities ranking among the
geographically largest "cities" in the world. Other states have
similar mechanisms to combine government services and functions in a
nearly converse situation—establishing equivalents of consolidated
city-county governments—a few examples of such combinations
existing as exceptions within the state: the five boroughs of New
York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in
general, most very large U.S. cities; each level of governance may
have been restructured to local needs and realities. Nevertheless,
Alaska considers such entities to be boroughs, not cities; while many
states consider city government to supersede (or absorb) the powers
normally the province of counties.
Alaska is also unique in that more
than half the geographic area of the state is in the "Unorganized
Borough", a legal entity in which the state also functions as the
local government.
In New York 5 of the 62 are administrative divisions of the
New York. These five are each called "boroughs" in context of city
government, but are still called "county" where state function is
involved, e.g., "New York
Most counties have a county seat, a city, town, or other named place
where its administrative functions are centered. Some counties have no
incorporated municipalities, such as Arlington County, Virginia. In
several instances throughout the nation, a municipality has merged
with a county into one jurisdiction so the county seat is coextensive
with the county, forming a consolidated city-county. Some New England
states use the term shire town to mean "county seat".
^ justification: 1666 in the consolidation of Canada after the French
and Indian War from the 1066 Norman Conquest... 600yrs, Q.E.D.
^ The larger the population center, and the denser the population, the
more likely it is to have assumed and subsumed county level functions;
normally under a special bill passed by the cognizant legislative
^ National governments that are Federations, such as Germany have
subdivisions similar to the English Counties in size. France has
provinces and districts which similarly provide governmental services.
Which services are mapped to which governmental offices, level or
officials is the province of the national constitution and legislative
^ e.g. Westmoreland, Washington in western Pennsylvania.
^ Chambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap
Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh
^ The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, C. W. Onions (Ed.),
1966, Oxford University Press
^ Vision of Britain  — Type details for ancient county. Retrieved
31 March 2012
^ Etymology of the word county.
County Government". Citizen's Guide to Pennsylvania Local
Government (pdf): 8. 2010. Retrieved 2016-08-09. The eleven elected
county officers are enumerated in the Pennsylvania Constitution, but
their powers and duties are prescribed by statutes located through out
the county codes and general state laws. Consolidation of certain
offices in smaller counties involves the offices of prothonotary,
clerk of courts, register of wills and recorder of deeds.
Province of Alberta. "Transitional Provisions, Consequential
Amendments, Repeal and Commencement (Municipal Government Act)" (PDF).
^ "Amternes administration 1660-1970 (in Danish)". Dansk Center for
^ Guenzi, Alberto (2016). Guilds, Markets and Work Regulations in
Italy, 16th–19th Centuries. Routledge.
^ a b c "
County Government". Citizen's Guide to Pennsylvania Local
Government (pdf): 8 of 56. 2010. Retrieved 2016-08-09.
Look up county in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Media related to Counties at Wikimedia Commons
Designations for types of administrative territorial entities
Common English terms1
Local government area
Combined statistical area
Metropolitan statistical area
Micropolitan statistical area
Free imperial city
Royal free city
Indian government district
Regional county municipality
Mountain resort municipality
Special administrative region
Federal capital territory
Organized incorporated territory
Autonomous territorial unit
Local administrative unit
Exclusive economic zone
Free economic zone
Special economic zone
Other English terms
Non-English or loanwords
Kunta / kommun
Arabic terms for country subdivisions
Muhafazah (محافظة governorate)
Wilayah (ولاية province)
Mintaqah (منطقة region)
Mudiriyah (مديرية directorate)
Imarah (إمارة emirate)
Baladiyah (بلدية municipality)
Shabiyah (شعبية "popularate")
Second / third-level
Mintaqah (منطقة region)
Qadaa (قضاء district)
Nahiyah (ناحية subdistrict)
Markaz (مركز district)
Mutamadiyah (معتمدية "delegation")
Daerah/Daïra (دائرة circle)
Liwa (لواء banner / sanjak)
City / township-level
Amanah (أمانة municipality)
Baladiyah (بلدية municipality)
Ḥai (حي neighborhood / quarter)
Sheyakhah (شياخة "neighborhood subdivision")
English translations given are those most commonly used.
French terms for country subdivisions
Greek terms for country subdivisions
apokentromenes dioikiseis / geniki dioikisis§ / diamerisma§ /
nomos§ / periphereiaki enotita
demos / eparchia§ / koinotita§
§ signifies a defunct institution
Portuguese terms for country subdivisions
Historical subdivisions in italics.
Slavic terms for country subdivisions
krajina / pokrajina
oblast / oblast' / oblasti / oblys / obwód / voblast'
opština / općina / občina / obshtina
powiat / povit
selsoviet / silrada
voivodeship / vojvodina
guberniya / gubernia
starostwo / starostva
Spanish terms for country subdivisions
Historical subdivisions in italics.
Turkish terms for country subdivisions
ağalık (feudal district)
reya (Romanian principalities)
voyvodalık (Romanian provinces)
1 Used by ten or more countries or having derived terms. Historical
derivations in italics.
See also: Census division, Electoral district, Political division, and
List of administrative divisions by country