is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes, in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French conté
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
, etc. (cf. conte
When the Normans conquered England, they brought the term with them. The 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, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire).
The Vikings introduced the term earl (from Old Norse, jarl
) to the British Isles. Thus, 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
) 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 on the British traditions 700 years later 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 court systems.
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.
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; but which may not be administratively equivalent to counties in predominantly English-speaking countries.