A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes, in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old Frenchconté or cunté 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, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, Gau, etc. (cf. conte, comte, conde, Graf).
The Anglo-Saxon terms "earl" and "earldom" were taken as equivalent to the continental terms "count" and "county" under the conquering Normans, and over time the two blended and became equivalent. Further, the later-imported term became a synonym for the native English word scir ([ʃiːr]) 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 a federal state, as in Germany and the United States, or of a national government in most other modern uses.
In the United States and Canada, founded 600 years later[a] on the British traditions, 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 and provincial 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, 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.[b]
Outside English-speaking countries, an equivalent of the term "county" is often used to describe subnational jurisdictions that are structurally equivalent to counties in the relationship they have with their national government;[c] but which may not be administratively equivalent to counties in predominantly English-speaking countries.