A country is a distinct territorial
or political entity
. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth
A country may be an independent sovereign state or part of a larger state, as a non-sovereign
or formerly sovereign political division
, a physical territory with a government
, or a geographic region associated with sets of previously independent or differently associated people
with distinct political characteristics. It is not inherently sovereign.
''Countries'' can refer both to sovereign states and to other political entities, while other times it can refer only to states
. For example, the ''CIA World Factbook
'' uses the word in its "Country name" field to refer to "a wide variety of dependencies, areas of special sovereignty, uninhabited islands
, and other entities in addition to the traditional countries or independent states".
The largest country in the world by geographical area is Russia
, while the most populous is China
, followed by India
, the United States
. The newest UN member is South Sudan
. Admission of new members requires the approval of the General Assembly
; and UN membership has since 1991 been reserved to sovereign states.
Etymology and usage
The word ''country'' comes from Old French
''contrée'', which derives from Vulgar Latin
(''terra'') ''contrata'' ("(land) lying opposite"; "(land) spread before"), derived from ''contra'' ("against, opposite"). It most likely entered the English language after the Franco-Norman invasion
during the 11th century.
the word has increasingly become associated with political divisions, so that one sense, associated with the indefinite article
– "a country" – through misuse and subsequent conflation is now a synonym
for state, or a former sovereign state
, in the sense of sovereign territory or "district, native land". Areas much smaller than a political state may be called by names such as the West Country
in England, the Black Country
(a heavily industrialized part of England), "Constable Country
" (a part of East Anglia
painted by John Constable
), the "big country" (used in various contexts of the American West
), "coal country" (used of parts of the US and elsewhere) and many other terms.
The equivalent terms in French and other Romance language
'' and variants) have not carried the process of being identified with political sovereign states as far as the English "country", instead derived from, pagus
, which designated the territory controlled by a medieval count
, a title originally granted by the Catholic Church
. In many European countries
the words are used for sub-divisions of the national territory, as in the German Bundesländer
, as well as a less formal term for a sovereign state. France has very many "pays" that are officially recognized at some level, and are either natural region
s, like the Pays de Bray
, or reflect old political or economic entities, like the Pays de la Loire
A version of "country" can be found in the modern French language
as ''contrée'', based on the word ''cuntrée'' in Old French
that is used similarly to the word "pays" to define non-state regions, but can also be used to describe a political state in some particular cases. The modern Italian ''contrada'' is a word with its meaning varying locally, but usually meaning a ward
or similar small division of a town
, or a village
or hamlet in the countryside.
Most countries have two names
, a protocol name and a geographical name or short name.
The protocol name (full name, formal name, official name) e.g. ''the Republic of India'', the ''Slovak Republic'', the ''Czech Republic'', the ''Swiss Confederation'', the ''State of Qatar'', the ''Principality of Monaco'', the ''Kingdom of Norway'', the ''Grand Duchy of Luxembourg'', the ''Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia'', the ''People's Democratic Republic of Algeria'', the ''Argentine Republic'', the ''United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'', the ''United States of America'', the ''United Mexican States'', the ''Commonwealth of Australia'', the ''Socialist Republic of Vietnam'', the ''Union of Soviet Socialist Republics''. The long form (official title) is used when the state is targeted as a legal entity
: e.g. ''This Decision is addressed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.'', ''The French Republic is authorised to …'', ''Agreement between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Russian Federation …''. If the recurrence of the name of a state in the text leads to a preference for using the short form, it can be introduced with the phrase ‘hereinafter referred to as …’.
The geographical name (short name) e.g. ''India'', ''Slovakia'', ''Czechia'', ''Switzerland'', ''Qatar'', ''Monaco'', ''Norway'', ''Luxembourg'', ''Ethiopia'', ''Algeria'', ''Argentina'', the ''United Kingdom'', the ''United States'', ''Mexico'', ''Australia'', ''Vietnam'', the ''Soviet Union''. The short form (short name) is used when the state is referred to geographically or economically: e.g. ''Workers residing in France'', ''Exports from Greece …''.
For certain states, the long form and the short form are identical: e.g. the ''Central African Republic'', the ''Democratic Republic of the Congo'', the ''Dominican Republic'', the ''United Arab Emirates'', ''Bosnia and Herzegovina'', ''Canada'', ''Georgia'', ''Hungary'', ''Iceland'', ''Ireland'', ''Jamaica'', ''Japan'', ''Malaysia'', ''Mongolia'', ''Montenegro'', ''New Zealand'', ''Romania'', ''Saint Lucia'', ''Saint Vincent and the Grenadines'', the ''Solomon Islands'', ''Turkmenistan'', ''Tuvalu
*coat of arms
or national emblem
*seal or stamp
The term "country" can refer to a sovereign state
. There is no universal agreement on the number of "countries" in the world
since a number of states have disputed sovereignty status
. By one application of the declarative theory of statehood
and constitutive theory of statehood
, there are 206 sovereign states
; of which 193 are members of the United Nations
, two have observer status at the United Nations General Assembly
(UNGA) (the Holy See
), and 11 others are neither a member nor observer at the UNGA. The latest proclaimed state is South Sudan
The degree of autonomy of non-sovereign countries varies widely. Some are possessions of sovereign states, as several states have overseas territories (such as French Polynesia
, a ''pays d'outre-mer'', or the British Virgin Islands
), with citizenry at times identical and at times distinct from their own. but may nonetheless be treated as a separate "country of origin
" in international trade, as Hong Kong
A few states consist of a union of smaller polities which are considered countries:
* The Kingdom of the Netherlands
includes four separate constituent countries ( nl|landen
, and Sint Maarten
* The United Kingdom
includes the four countries England
, Northern Ireland
. The Crown Dependencies
and the Overseas Territories
, which are not part of the UK itself,
* The Danish Realm
consists of Denmark
proper and its two autonomous territories: the Faroe Islands
Several organizations seek to identify trends in order to produce country classifications. Countries are often distinguished as developing countries
or developed countries.
The United Nations
The United Nations
Department of Economic and Social Affairs annually produces the ''World Economic Situation and Prospects'' report that classified states as developed countries, economies in transition, or developing countries. The report classifies country development based on per capita gross national income. Within the broad categories, the United Nations identified subgroups based on geographical location or ad hoc criteria. The UN outlines the geographical regions for developing economies as Africa
, East Asia
, South Asia
, Western Asia
, and Latin America
and the Caribbean
. The 2019 report recognizes only developed countries in North America, Europe, and Asia and the Pacific. The majority of economies in transition and developing countries are found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The UN additionally recognizes multiple trends that impact the developmental status of countries in the ''World Economic Situation and Prospects''. The report highlights fuel-exporting and fuel-importing countries, as well as small island developing states and landlocked developing countries. It also identifies heavily indebted poor countries.
The World Bank
The World Bank
also classifies countries based on GNI per capita. Using the ''World Bank Atlas method'', it classifies countries as low-income economies, lower-middle-income economies, upper-middle-income economies, or high-income economies. For the 2020 fiscal year, the World Bank defines low-income economies as countries with a GNI per capita of $1,025 or less in 2018; lower middle-income economies as countries with a GNI per capita between $1,026 and $3,995; upper middle-income economies as countries with a GNI per capita between $3,996 and $12,375; high-income economies as countries with a GNI per capita of $12,376 or more.
It also identifies regional trends. The World Bank defines its regions as East Asia and Pacific
and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean
, Middle East and North Africa
, North America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa
. Lastly, the World Bank distinguishes countries based on the operational policies of the World Bank. The three categories include International Development Association (IDA) countries, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) countries, and Blend countries.
* City network
* Constituent state
* List of sovereign states and dependent territories by continent
* Lists of countries and territories
* List of former sovereign states
* Princely State
Defining what makes a country
from the United States Library of Congress
Foreign Information by Country
from GovPubs at UCB Libraries
United Nations statistics division