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Originally, a county was the land under the jurisdiction of a count (in Great Britain, an earl, though the original earldoms covered larger areas) by reason of that office. The term has since tended to represent a tertiary geographical unit of administration intermediate between the larger, secondary state or province, and the smaller, quaternary township, municipality or district. However it can also be used to mean a geographic area, and this can generate much confusion, especially when boundaries used by government or postal deliveries change or do not coincide.

County governments are typically responsible for services such as record-keeping, elections administration, and judicial administration.



Five of Canada's ten provinces are divided into counties. In Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, these are local government units, whereas in 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:

Map of Canada's Provinces

Divisions of the other provinces:



Main article: County of China

The word "county" is the general English translation for the Chinese term xiÓn (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. The county remains one of the oldest levels of government in China and significantly predates the establishment of provinces in the Ming dynasty. The county government was particularly important in imperial China because this was the lowest layer at which the imperial government functioned.

In older context, "prefecture" and "district" are alternative terms to refer to xiÓn before the establishment of the Republic of China. The English nomenclature "county" was adopted following the establishment of the ROC.

The head of a county is the magistrate.

See also: Political divisions of China, Counties of Taiwan


Counties have been units of regional self-government in Croatia since 1990. There are twenty counties and the city of Zagreb which has the same status. They are called županije and they are each headed by a župan (whose replacement is called a dožupan).

See also: Counties of Croatia


The administrative unit of Hungary is called megye, or in Latin: comitatus, which can be translated with the word county. Presently Hungary is subdivided into 19 "proper" counties, 22 city counties 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 present-day neighboring countries of Hungary. See the list of historic counties of Hungary.


The island of Ireland was originally divided into 32 counties in the nineteenth century, of which 26 later formed the Republic of Ireland and 6 made up Northern Ireland. The counties are traditionally grouped into 4 provinces - Leinster (12), Munster (6) Connacht (5) and Ulster (9). In the Republic each county is administered by an elected "county council".

In Northern Ireland in the 1970s, and the Republic of Ireland two decades later, the existing county numbers and boundaries were reformed. In the republic, 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 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 nicknamed the 'twenty-six counties' by republicans, the Republic of Ireland now has thirty-four "county-level" authorities.

For almost all sporting, cultural and other purposes, the original 32 counties and 4 provinces remain in common usage. Each county has its own flag/colours (and often a nickname too), and county allegiances are taken quite seriously.


"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.

Presently, "counties" have no political power or administrative function. The division is mainly significant in postal services.


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.

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. fylker, literally "folk") as of 1972. Up to this 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. kommuner), the ones with incorporated cities being called city municipalities (sing. bykommune, plur. 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 Conservatives, H°yre, call for the abolishment of the counties once and for all, while others merely want to merger some of them into larger regions.


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

See also:


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 40 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 lńn, which literally means "fief."

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is divided into a number of administrative counties (officially called counties) there are also ceremonial counties and traditional counties which have no administrative function but exist as geographic areas.

Most administrative counties in England are run by county councils and divided into 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 traditional counties of Wales were fixed by Statute in 1539 and most of those of Scotland are of at least this age.

The county boundaries of England have changed over time. In the medieval 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).

For centuries, the counties were used mainly for legal administration and tax raising. Modern local government did not come into being until 1889, when administrative counties (county councils) were created which were based upon the traditional county areas. In 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. In 1986, however, the metropolitan county councils were abolished, and divided into a series of unitary authorities, although the counties still exist in name and for some administrative and ceremonial purposes. Traditionalists still refer to traditional counties for geographic purposes rather than administrative ones. Uniquely the Isle of Wight is a unitary authority with county status.

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 Great Britain in the 1960s.

United States

Main article: County (United States)

Map of the United States with county outlines.
Map of the United States with county outlines.

The term "county" is also used in 48 of the 50 states of the United States for the level of local government below the states themselves. Louisiana uses the term parishes and Alaska uses boroughs. The U.S. Census Bureau lists 3,141 counties or county-equivalent administrative units. The power of the county government varies widely from state to state as does the relationship between counties and incorporated municipal governments.

In New England, counties function primarily as judicial court districts, as most local power is in the form of towns. In Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, they have even lost all governmental function and are solely geographic designations. Outside New England, counties maintain law enforcement agencies, public utilities, library systems, vital statistics and the issuance of birth certificates. County sheriffs are the principal agents of law enforcement in some states, for areas outside of cities and towns. (In parts of the U.S., counties are "policed" by sheriffs, and cities are policed by police. In other areas, county law enforcement is called "County Police" with county sheriffs providing court services.)

In Virginia, all municipalities incorporated as cities are organized as separate political units that are not part of any county (i.e., independent cities). This pattern is not generally implemented in other states, where cities are generally in the same county as the surrounding area. Exceptions include areas like the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, where county and city governments have merged; and counties like Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, where the county and city are coextensive. New York City is a special case, where the city comprises a total of five counties (all organized separately but parallel to the five boroughs of the city).

Each county contains a county seat, which is where county offices are located (this is usually, but not always, an incorporated municipality). In some states, counties are subdivided into civil townships, which typically administer specific land-use ordinances and provide limited services such as clearing roads after a snowfall.

In western states such as California, the county is the default unit of local government and controls all unincorporated land within its boundaries. Residents of unincorporated land who are dissatisfied with county-level resource allocation decisions can incorporate a city. In turn, the city government can then choose to provide all its own services, or provide only some and allow the county to provide the rest.

Lists of counties by state can be found through U.S. counties; for more comparative information on U.S. counties, see county statistics of the United States.

Last updated: 10-16-2005 11:55:06
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