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Originally, the 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 geographical unit of administration intermediate between the larger state or province, and the smaller 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.

Table of contents
1 Canada
2 China
3 Croatia
4 France
5 Ireland
6 Japan
7 New Zealand
8 Norway
9 Poland
10 Serbia and Montenegro
11 Sweden
12 United Kingdom
13 United States


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 south-central Ontario new "regional municipalities" are used for local government instead of counties.

See also:

Divisions of the Other provinces: Statistics


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 2000, 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 historical counties of France were abolished in 1790 and incorporated in the new dÚpartements created following the Revolution. The term survives, however, in the name of the Franche-ComtÚ region, the former Free County of Burgundy.


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 were 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 the 1970s in Northern Ireland and in the 1990s in the Republic of Ireland the existing county numbers and boundaries were reformed. In the Republic, for example Dublin County was broken into four: Dublin City, D˙n Laoghaire - Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin. In addition 'County Tipperary' is actually two counties, called Tipperary North Riding and Tipperary South Riding (amusing as riding derives from the anglo saxon thriding meaning a third) while the major urban centres Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford have been separated from the 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 allegiences 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", choume (丁目). In this enyclopedia, district is used for gun. See Japanese translation note.

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

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:

Serbia and Montenegro

Subdivisions of Serbia (
okrug) are sometimes translated as counties, though more oftenly 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 litterally means Fief.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Great Britain is divided into 86 traditional counties, and Northern Ireland into 6 traditional counties. The ages and the origins of the counties of Britain vary.

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. The shires were named after their shire town (for example Bedfordshire). 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.

The thirteen 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 counies 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. Some English traditionalists still refer to traditional counties for geographic purposes rather than modern administrative ones.

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

The term "county" is also used in 48 of the 50 states of the United States for the level of local government below the state itself. 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 (and in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, they have even lost this function and are solely geographic designations), and most local power is in the form of towns. Outside New England, counties maintain law enforcement agencies, public utilities and library systems. 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.) Each county contains a county seat, which is where county offices are located (this is usually, but not always an incorporated municipality). In many 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.

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.