When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicators, major is one rank senior to that of an army captain, and one rank subordinate or below the rank of lieutenant colonel. It is considered the most junior of the field officer ranks.
Majors are typically assigned as specialised executive or operations officers for battalion-sized units of 300 to 1,200 soldiers. In some militaries, notably France and Ireland, the rank of major is referred to as commandant, while in others it is known as captain-major.
When used in hyphenated or combined fashion, the term can also imply seniority at other levels of rank, including general-major or major general, denoting a low-level general officer, and sergeant major, denoting the most senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) of a military unit. The term major can also be used with a hyphen to denote the leader of a military band such as in pipe-major or drum-major.
Historically, the rank designation develops in English in the 1640s, taken from French majeur, in turn a shortening of sergent-majeur, which at the time designated a higher rank than at present.
The rank of major is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures, such as the Pennsylvania State Police, New York State Police, New Jersey State Police, and several others. As with a military major, this rank is most commonly the next rank above captain. The rank is equivalent to an inspector or commander in other large police departments or to the UK rank of superintendent.