Encyclopedic Entry

The county seat usually has a county courthouse.

Photograph by Susan Adams, MyShot

Chinese Counties
The county-level districts in China have remained virtually unchanged since the Han Dynasty, which was established in 206 BCE.

Five Boroughs, Five Counties, One City
New York City is the only city in the United States to have its own counties. They are the five boroughs: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

Unorganized Borough
Although Alaska's North Slope Borough is the largest county in the United States, it isn't the largest administrative district in Alaska. More than half of the state is not organized into a governmental area: The Unorganized Borough is 387,710 square kilometers (323,440 square miles).

A county is a territorial division and a unit of local government in some countries. Counties are usually made up of cities, towns, or rural populations. The functions of a county vary from country to country.

In the United States, counties are usually government units below the state level. Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, and Alaska has boroughs. The states of Rhode Island and Connecticut do not have county governments at all.

The number and size of counties varies from state to state. Texas has 254 counties, while Delaware has only three. The North Slope Borough in Alaska is 245,435 square kilometers (94,763 square miles). Arlington County, Virginia, is only 67 square kilometers (26 square miles). Los Angeles County, in Southern California, is the nations most populous county. With almost 10 million residents, Los Angeles County has almost twice as many people as the second-largest county, Illinois Cook County, which has about 5.2 million residents.

Major county responsibilities in the United States include law enforcement, road maintenance, and public education. Nearby counties may have different laws or standards of education. A dry county, for instance, is a county that does not allow the public sale of alcohol. In North Carolina, Graham County, which is dry, borders Swain County, which is wet.

The city or town where the countys government offices are located is called the county seat. A county seat is usually the largest urban area in the county, but not always. Arlington County does not have a county seat, while Harrison County, Mississippi, has two: Gulfport and Biloxi. A county seat may have the countys court, jail, and sheriffs offices. County officials may include sheriffs, lawyers, judges, a treasurer, and a board of supervisors.

A county sheriff is often responsible for law enforcement outside the borders of urban areas. Sheriffs often have a much larger area to patrol, with fewer residents. Urban areas will almost always have their own law enforcement officials, including police, attorneys, and judges.

A countywide board of supervisors may make decisions that impact all the residents of a county, such as water use or educational policy. County boards must often balance the demands of rural and urban populations, as well as different industries (such as agriculture and construction) and income levels.

Counties Outside the United States


In the United Kingdom, counties are the main political subdivisions of the country. Counties have responsibilities similar to those of the states in the United States. England, the largest country in the United Kingdom, has three different types of counties: ceremonial counties, which are also called geographic counties; metropolitan counties; and non-metropolitan counties. Some of Englands ceremonial counties, such as Kent, were established more than 1,000 years ago. Metropolitan counties include some of Englands largest cities, such as Manchester (part of the county of Greater Manchester), Birmingham (part of the county of West Midlands), and Leeds (part of the county of Merseyside.)

Unlike counties in the United States, the counties of the United Kingdom do not have county in their name. In Ireland, the word county comes before the countys name: County Donegal is to the islands extreme north, while County Cork is at Irelands south.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

agriculture

Noun

the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture

alcohol

Noun

chemical compound, usually ethanol or methanol, generated by fermentation and used for fuel, hygiene, medicine, and food.

board of supervisors

Noun

elected or appointed body that determines the policies of a geographic area, such as a county or school district.

ceremonial county

Noun

one of 48 political and administrative units in England, based on ancient geographical boundaries. Also called a geographic county.

construction

Noun

arrangement of different parts.

country

Noun

geographic territory with a distinct name, flag, population, boundaries, and government.

county

Noun

political unit smaller than a state or province, but typically larger than a city, town, or other municipality.

Encyclopedic Entry: county

county seat

Noun

city or town where the government of a county is located.

court

Noun

building or room where legal professionals decide the law and administer justice.

dry county

Noun

political district in the U.S. where the sale of alcohol and alcoholic beverages is illegal.

government

Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

income

Noun

wages, salary, or amount of money earned.

judge

Noun

person elected or appointed to decide legal cases.

law enforcement

Noun

individuals or organizations that make sure people obey government rules.

lawyer

Noun

person who studies the law, represents clients, and gives legal advice.

metropolitan county

Noun

one of six political and administrative units in England, having between 1.2 and 2.8 million residents.

non-metropolitan county

Noun

one of 77 political and administrative units in England, having between 300,000 and 1.5 million residents. Also called a shire county.

parish

Noun

political division, similar to a county, in the U.S. state of Louisiana.

populous

Adjective

containing a large number of inhabitants.

public education

Noun

schools funded by the government and the standards to which those schools are held.

rural

Adjective

having to do with country life, or areas with few residents.

sheriff

Noun

law enforcement officer, usually of a county.

state

Noun

political unit in a nation, such as the United States, Mexico, or Australia.

territorial

Adjective

very protective of a specific area, especially defending it against intruders.

town

Noun

human settlement larger than a village and smaller than a city.

United Kingdom

Noun

nation made of the countries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

urban area

Noun

developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

Encyclopedic Entry: urban area

vary

Verb

to change.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writers

Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt

Illustrators

Tim Gunther
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society

Editors

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Educator Reviewer

Nancy Wynne

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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