AskDefine | Define county

Dictionary Definition



1 a region created by territorial division for the purpose of local government; "the county has a population of 12,345 people"
2 the largest administrative district within a state; "the county plans to build a new road"

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The land ruled by a count or a countess.
  2. An administrative region of various countries, including Canada, China, Croatia, France, the Republic of Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro and Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  3. A definitive geographic region, without direct administrative functions, as in traditional county.

Usage notes

In the United Kingdom they are referred to as e.g. Kent and never Kent County; an organisation such as Kent County Council is the County Council of Kent, not the Council of Kent County.

Derived terms


land ruled by a count or countess
administrative region of various countries

Extensive Definition

A county is generally a sub-unit of regional self-government within a larger jurisdiction.


Originally, in continental Europe, a county (comté, Grafschaft) was the land under the jurisdiction of a count (comte, Graf).
Counts are called earls in post-Celtic Britain and Ireland—the term is from Old Norse jarl and was introduced by the Vikings—but there is no correlation between counties and earldoms. Rather, county, from French comté, was simply used by the Normans after 1066 to replace the native English term scir ([ʃir])—Modern English shire, as the Anglo-Saxon system of Shires was unique and thus hard for the Norman invaders to comprehend so they resorted to calling them Counties. A shire was an administrative division of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom (Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, etc.), usually named after its administrative centre: for example, Gloucester, in Gloucestershire; Worcester, in Worcestershire; etc. or originate from these forms of names (e.g. Wiltshire derived from 'Wiltonshire' with Wilton as its old county town).
Thus, whereas the word comté denoted a sovereign jurisdiction in the original French, the English county denotes a subdivision of a sovereign jurisdiction.


* The 32 refers to the counties of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland combined. For more information, see the sections on Ireland and United Kingdom below.


Each Austrian state (in German Bundesland, plural Bundesländer) is divided in a number of counties (in German Bezirk, plural Bezirke). Each county is subdivided in towns or villages. Some larger towns do not form part of a county and are governed by a unitary administration instead which counts both for city administration as well as county governance. The federal capital Vienna is considered as a state as well. The capital government of Vienna is responsible for state, county and town governance. Vienna is subdivided in boroughs which are called "Bezirk" in German as well, but have a different function than the counties in the other federal states.


The eastern Australian states, and parts of the western states were divided into counties, mostly in the nineteenth century. These were further subdivided into parishes in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; and hundreds in South Australia. The counties currently have no political function, and became dead letters for most purposes other than the registration of land ownership, and are unknown by most of the population today. Local Government Areas including shires, municipalities and others are instead used in Australia as the second level subdivision.


Five of Canada's ten provinces are divided into counties. In Ontario and Nova Scotia, these are local government units, whereas in New Brunswick, Quebec and Prince Edward Island they are now only geographical divisions. Most counties consist of several municipalities, however there are a few that consist of a single large city. In sparsely populated northern Ontario and Quebec, these units are called districts not counties, and in densely populated areas of south-central Ontario new regional municipalities are used for local government instead of counties.
See also:
Divisions of the other provinces:


The word "county" is used to translate the Chinese term xiàn (县 or 縣). On Mainland China under the People's Republic of China, counties are the third level of local government, coming under both the province level and the prefecture level.
The number of counties in China proper numbers about 2,000, and 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. The English nomenclature "county" was adopted following the establishment of the ROC.


Denmark was divided into counties (amter) from 1662 to 2006. On January 1, 2007, the counties were replaced by five Regions. At the same time, the number of municipalities was slashed from 271 to 98.
The counties were first introduced in 1662, replacing the 49 fiefs (len) in 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; Copenhagen and Frederiksberg.
In 2003, Bornholm County merged with the local four municipalities, forming the Bornholm Regional Municipality. The remaining 13 counties were abolished on effective January 1, 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.


The administrative unit of Hungary is called megye, (historically, they were also called comitatus in Latin), which can be translated with the word county. It is the highest level of the administrative subdivisions of the country, although counties are grouped into seven statistical regions. Counties are subdivided to kistérségs, which literally means "little area", though translating this as a commune is more proper. Communes have statistical and organizational functions only, whilst they have their own "capital cities". Presently Hungary is subdivided into 19 "proper" counties, 22 urban counties (cities with the same rights as a whole county) and 1 capital, Budapest. See the list of counties of Hungary.
The comitatus was also the historic administrative unit in the Kingdom of Hungary, which included areas of present-day neighbouring countries of Hungary. See the list of historic counties of Hungary.
Although the Latin name (comitatus) is the equivalent of the French comté, historical Hungarian counties have never been sovereign jurisdictions. They were subdivisions of the royal administration and as such, should really be translated as shire. Even the word megye is a shortened form of the original vármegye, where the element vár means castle, thus denoting an area supervised and governed from a royal castle, much like an Anglo-Saxon shire indeed.


The administrative unit in India immediately next to the state is called a Zila in Hindi, or Mavattam in Tamil, or district (never County) in English.


The island of Ireland was historically divided into 32 counties, of which 26 later formed the Republic of Ireland and 6 made up Northern Ireland.
These counties are traditionally grouped into 4 provinces - Leinster (12), Munster (6) Connacht (5) and Ulster (9). Historically, the counties of Meath, West Meath and small parts of surrounding counties constituted the province of Meath, which was one of the "Five Fifths" of Ireland (in the Irish language the word for province 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 political significance.
The number and boundaries of administrative counties in the Republic of Ireland were reformed in the 1990s. For example County Dublin was broken into three: Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin - the City of Dublin had existed for centuries before. In addition "County Tipperary" is actually two administrative counties, called North Tipperary and South Tipperary while the major urban centres Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford have been separated from the town and rural areas of their counties. Thus, the Republic of Ireland now has thirty-four 'county-level' authorities, although the borders of the original twenty-six counties are still officially in place
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 GAA county has its own flag/colours (and often a nickname too), and county allegiances are taken quite seriously. See the counties of Ireland and the Gaelic Athletic Association.


"County" is one of the translations of gun (郡), which is a subdivision of prefecture. It is also translated as rural district, rural area or district. The translation "district" is not preferred, because it comes into conflict with the usual translation of "district", chome. In this encyclopedia, district is used for gun. See Japanese translation note.
Currently, "counties" have no political power or administrative function. The division is mainly significant in postal services.


Liberia has 15 counties, each of which elects two senators to the Liberian Senate.


Apskritis (pl. apskritys) is the Lithuanian word for county. Since 1994 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.

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" (eg Rotorua) or a change of name to "district' (eg Waimairi) or "city" (eg Manukau).
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".


Norway is divided into 19 counties (sing. fylke, plur. fylke/fylker, literally "folk") as of 1972. Up to that year Bergen was a separate county, but is today a municipality in the county of Hordaland. All counties are divided into municipalities, (sing. kommune, plur. kommunar/kommuner), the ones with incorporated cities being called city municipalities (sing. bykommune, plur. bykommunar/bykommuner). The county of Oslo is equivalent to the municipality of Oslo.
Each county has its own assembly (fylkesting) whose representatives are elected every four years together with representatives to the municipality councils. The counties handle matters as high schools and local roads, and until recently hospitals as well. This responsibility is now transferred to the state, and there is a debate on the future of the county as an administrative entity. Some people, and parties, such as the Conservative Party of Norway, call for the abolishment of the counties once and for all, while others, like the Norwegian Labour Party merely want to merge some of them into larger regions.


The administrative unit in Pakistan immediately next to the state is called a Zilla in Urdu and district (never County) in English.


In the Philippines during the Spanish colonial times, when the descendants of the Pre-conquest nobles were utilized by Spain to indirectly rule the natives, the equivalent of a county was the town or pueblo, and also municipality. The pueblos were composed of Barangays. Each pueblo was ruled by the Gobernadorcillo who was elected by the Principalía of the pueblo. In turn, each barangay (equivalent to a barony) was ruled by a Cabeza de Barangay (a hereditary office and title previously referred before the Spanish conquest as datu).


A second-level administrative division in Poland is called a powiat. (This is a subdivision of a voivodeship and is further subdivided into gminas.) The term is often translated into English as county (or sometimes district). For more details see powiat and List of counties in Poland.


The administrative subdivisions of Romania are called judeţ (plural: judeţe), name derived from jude, a mayor and judge of a city (akin to English judge; both are derived from Latin) Presently Romania is subdivided into 41 counties and the capital, Bucharest having a separate status. See the list of counties of Romania.


Russian subdivisions is usually called municipality rayon (Russian: Муниципальный район) or okrug (Russian: округ). Rayons are named as Ulus(Улус) in Sakha Republic.
Rayon, Okrug and Ulus may be translated into English as county or district.

Serbia and Montenegro

Subdivisions of Serbia (okrug) are sometimes translated as counties, though more often as districts. See District#Serbia and Montenegro

Korea (South)

In Korea(both North and South), county(Korean: 군-郡). Gun(군) can be the same concept of county in English. County in South Korea is the substructure of province(Doh) and should have more than 50,000 population. But actually, in case of South Korea, a gun consists of one town (eup) and five to ten myeon. It means eup and myeon is sub-feature of counties.


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, and each county is further divided into municipalities. 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.
The Swedish term used is län, which literally means "fief."

United Kingdom

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 geographic areas broadly based on the historic counties of England. The metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties had replaced in 1974 a system of administrative counties and county boroughs which were introduced in 1889.
Most non-metropolitan counties in England are run by county councils and divided into non-metropolitan districts, each with its own council. Local authorities in the UK are usually responsible for running 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. These became known as the shire town or later the county town. In most cases, the shires were named after their shire town (for example Bedfordshire) however exceptions to this rule exist, such as Wiltshire. In several other cases, such as Devon, the shire has a county town different from that which it is named after. 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 geographically based upon 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 originally existed as independent kingdoms.
The thirteen historic counties of Wales were fixed by Statute in 1539 (although counties such as Pembrokeshire date from 1138) and most of those of Scotland are of at least this age.
The county boundaries of England have changed over time. In the mediæval period, a number of important cities were granted the status of counties in their own right, such as London, Bristol and Coventry, and numerous small exclaves such as Islandshire were created. The next major change occurred in 1844, when many of these exclaves were re-merged with their surrounding counties (for example Coventry was re-merged with Warwickshire).
In 1965 and 1974 a major re-organisation of local government created several new administrative counties such as Hereford and Worcester and also created several new metropolitan counties which served large urban areas as a single administrative unit. Modern local government in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a large part of England is based on the concept of smaller unitary authorities, a system similar to that proposed for most of Britain in the 1960s.

United States

The term county is used in 48 of the 50 states of the United States for a tier of organization immediately below the statewide tier and above (where created) the municipal or civil township tier.
Louisiana has entities similar to counties but calls them parishes. 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. Nevertheless, Alaska considers such entities to be boroughs, not cities. 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 two states and parts of a third, county government as such has been abolished, and county refers to geographic regions or districts. In Connecticut, Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts counties exist only to designate boundaries for such state-level functions as park districts (Connecticut) or judicial offices (Massachusetts). In states where county government is weak or nonexistent (eg, New Hampshire), town government may provide some or all of the local government services.
Each county has a county seat (a center of county administration), usually in an incorporated municipality.
Independent cities and census districts are termed county equivalents when they function as the first jurisdiction below state level but are not part of any county.


county in Bulgarian: Окръг
county in Danish: Amt
county in German: Grafschaft
county in Spanish: Condado
county in Esperanto: County
county in Persian: شهرستان
county in French: Comté
county in Croatian: Grofovija
county in Indonesian: County
county in Icelandic: Sýsla
county in Italian: Contea
county in Latin: comitatus
county in Hungarian: Megye
county in Dutch: County
county in Japanese: 郡
county in Norwegian: Fylke
county in Occitan (post 1500): comtat
county in Polish: Hrabstwo
county in Portuguese: Condado
county in Russian: County
county in Simple English: County
county in Finnish: Lääni
county in Swedish: Län
county in Tok Pisin: kaunti
county in Chinese: 县

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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