A county is generally a sub-unit of regional self-government within a sovereign jurisdiction. Originally, in continental Europe, a county was the land under the jurisdiction of a count. 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.[1] Thus, whereas the word comté denoted a sovereign jurisdiction in the original French, the English county denotes a subdivision of a sovereign jurisdiction.


Country/Area Language Singular Plural Number Notes
Counties of Canada English and French
Counties of Croatia Croatian županija županije 20
Counties of Denmark Danish amt amter 13 (last number) Established 1662.
Disbanded 2006.
Counties of Estonia Estonian maakond maakonnad 15
Counties of Finland Finnish and Swedish lääni/län läänit/län 6
Counties of Germany German Kreis or Landkreis Kreise / Landkreise 323
Counties of Hungary Hungarian megye megyék 19/22/1 for numbers: see main article
Counties of Ireland Irish and English contae contaethe 32*
Counties of Japan Japanese 郡(gun) same as singular
Counties of Latvia Latvian rajons rajoni 26
Counties of Liberia English 15
Counties of Lithuania Lithuanian apskritis apskritys 10
Counties of Moldova Romanian judeţ judeţe 9 disbanded in 2003
Counties of the Netherlands Dutch graafschap graafschappen only historic
Counties of Norway Norwegian fylke fylke/fylker 19
Counties of Poland Polish powiat powiaty 308
Counties of Romania Romanian judeţ judeţe 41+1
Counties of Russia Russian rayon (район) or okrug (округ) rayoni (районы) or okruga (округа) >1000
Counties of Serbia and Montenegro Serbian okrug okruzi 29+1/21
Counties of Sweden Swedish län län 21
Counties of the United Kingdom English
Counties of the United States English 3141

* 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.


The eastern Australian states, and parts of the other 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.


Main article: Census divisions of Canada

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, but 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:

  • List of New Brunswick counties
  • List of Nova Scotia counties
  • Counties of Prince Edward Island
  • List of Ontario counties
  • List of Quebec counties
  • List of Quebec county regional municipalities

Divisions of the other provinces:

  • In Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador, instead of counties, divisions are used.
  • Alberta has several types of municipalities with varying degrees of local autonomy. While some rural municipalities are known as "counties", this no longer has any substantive meaning; Alberta counties were once rural municipalities which combined the local government and school board in one body.
  • In British Columbia, regional districts are used. (see List of British Columbia Regional Districts) British Columbia is also divided into 8 counties, but these serve only as judicial districts. (see Supreme Court of British Columbia).
  • The Yukon Territory is one district in itself.
  • The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are divided into districts.


  • Census division statistics of Canada


Main article: County of China

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. On Taiwan, the streamlining of Taiwan Province has left the county the major governmental level below the Republic of China central government.

The number of counties in China proper numbers about 2,000, and has remained more or less constant since the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). 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.

See also: Political divisions of China, Counties of Taiwan


Denmark was divided into counties 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 270 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.[1] 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.

See also: Counties of Denmark


The administrative unit of Hungary is called megye, (historically, they were also called comitatus in Latin), which can be translated as 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 there 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.


The administrative unit in India immediately next to the state is called a Zila in Hindi and 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 was one of the "Five Fifths" of Ireland , In the Irish language the word province means a fifth ; but 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, though sometimes called the 'twenty-six counties', the Republic of Ireland now has thirty-four 'county-level' authorities.

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 wiki as in Wikipedia, district is used for gun. See Japanese translation note.

Presently, "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 it 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 4 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 merely want to merger 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.


Polish second-level administration unit powiat is usually translated into English as county or district. See 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.

Serbia and Montenegro[]

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


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.

Early times[]

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 that age.

Boundary changes[]

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[]

Main article: County (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 most counties, as the state government provides more 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. However, Alaska officially considers such entities to be boroughs, not cities. Alaska is also unique among U.S. states in that over half the geographic area of the state is in the "Unorganized Borough", a legal entity where the state government also functions as the local government.

In two states and parts of a third, county government has been abolished, and county refers to geographic governmental regions or districts. In Connecticut,[2] Rhode Island[3] and parts of Massachusetts[4][5] 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, town government may provide some or all of the local government services.

When possessing a functioning government, each county will have a county seat (a center of county administration), usually in an incorporated municipality.  A few US counties have two county seats.  In at least three states and commonwealths, all in New England, county seats are still known as shire towns, though they may be called "county seats" colloquially.  In Massachusetts, there is at least one county with two "half-shire towns" (Bristol County), each with its own court of general jurisdiction.  In Maine, there are two counties where two towns keep land records, though there is no courthouse and the legislature has refused to designate these "half-shire towns".

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.


See also[]

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