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Map showing countries with full recognition and some UN non-member states; some disputed territories are not shown.

A country is a distinct territorial body or political entity.[1] It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence or citizenship.

A country may be an independent sovereign state or part of a larger state,[2] 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 peoples with distinct political characteristics. It is not inherently sovereign.

Countries can refer both to sovereign states and to other political entities,[3][4][5][6] though one government argue against this and required foreign business entities operated internationally to cave in to their demand[7][8][9][10] not without controversies,[11][12][13][14] while other times it can refer only to states.[15][unreliable source?] 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".[16][note 1]

The largest country in the world by geographical area is Russia, while the most populous is China, followed by India, the United States, and Indonesia.[25] The newest United Nations (UN) member is South Sudan. Admission of new members requires the approval of the General Assembly; since 1991, UN membership has been reserved to sovereign states.[26][citation needed] Microstates are sovereign countries having a very small population or very small land area, usually both; examples of microstates include the Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino.

Etymology and usage[edit]

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.

In English 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".[27] Areas much smaller than a political state may be called by names such as the West Country in England, the Black Country (a heavily industrialised 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.[28]

The equivalent terms in French and other Romance languages (pays and variants) have not carried the process of being identified with political sovereign states as far as the English "country", instead derived from, the Roman term pagus, which continued to be used in the Middle Ages for small geographical areas similar to the size of English counties. 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 recognised at some level, and are either natural regions, 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 as contrée, based on the word cuntrée in Old French,[28] 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.

Country names[edit]

Most countries are known by two names: a protocol, formal, full, or official name; and a geographical, common, or short name.[29][30][31][32]

Country symbols[edit]

Symbols of a country indicate cultural, religious or political symbol of any nation or race the country consists of. There are many categories of symbols which can be seen in flags, coat of arms or seals.

Sovereignty status[edit]

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,[33] there are 206 sovereign states; of which 193 are members of the UN, two have observer status at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) (the Holy See and Palestine), and 11 others are neither a member nor observer at the UNGA. The latest proclaimed state to gain UN membership is South Sudan since 2011.

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, an overseas territories), with citizenry at times identical and at times distinct from their own. Such territories, with the exception of distinct dependent territories,[clarify] are usually listed together with sovereign states on lists of countries, but may nonetheless be treated as a separate "country of origin" in international trade, as Hong Kong is.[34][35][36]

A few states consist of a union of smaller polities which are considered countries:

Country classification[edit]

Several organisations seek to identify trends in order to produce country classifications. Countries are often distinguished as developing countries or developed countries.

The United Nations[edit]

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs annually produces the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report that classifies states as developed countries, economies in transition, or developing countries. The report classifies country development based on per capita gross national income (GNI). Within the broad categories, the UN identifies 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 recognises 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 recognises 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.[39]

The World Bank[edit]

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.[40]

It also identifies regional trends. The World Bank defines its regions as East Asia and Pacific, Europe 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ General information or statistical publications that adopt the wider definition for purposes such as illustration and comparison include:[17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]


  1. ^ "Definition of Country". 26 November 2021.
  2. ^ Jones, J. (1964). What Makes a Country? Human Events, 24(31), 14.
  3. ^ Tjhe Kwet Koe v Minister for Immigration & Ethnic Affairs [1997] FCA 912 (8 September 1997), Federal Court (Australia)
  4. ^ Chan Chuen v Esperdy, 285 F.2d 353
  5. ^ John Cheung v United States, 213 F.3d 82
  6. ^ Kin Wan Tso v United States, 251 Fed.Appx. 51
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Swiss airline switches Hong Kong flag to China's on website 'in accordance with international usage'". HKFP. 9 August 2018.
  9. ^ "There's a major oversight in China's "Orwellian" bullying over Taiwan". Quartz.
  10. ^ "'Economic blackmail': Zara, Qantas, Marriott and Delta Air Lines reverse position on Taiwan for fear of angering China". Business Insider.
  11. ^ "U.S. Condemns China for 'Orwellian nonsense' over airline websites". Reuters. 7 May 2018.
  12. ^ "Forcing airlines to classify Taiwan, Hong Kong as Chinese territories is 'Orwellian nonsense,' White House says". AFP. 6 May 2018.
  13. ^ "China hits back on White House's 'Orwellian nonsense' claim". Sydney Morning Herald. 6 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Airlines, including Israel's el al, caving to Beijing pressure on Taiwan | the Times of Israel". The Times of Israel.
  15. ^ Rosenberg, Matt. "Geography: Country, State, and Nation". Retrieved 12 November 2008.[unreliable source?]
  16. ^ "The World Factbook". CIA. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  17. ^ "Greenland Country Information". Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2008. "The World Factbook – Rank Order – Exports". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
  18. ^ "Index of Economic Freedom - Countries". Index of Economic Freedom. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
  19. ^ "Index of Economic Freedom – Top 10 Countries". The Heritage Foundation. Archived from the original on 24 January 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
  20. ^ "Asia-Pacific (Region A) Economic Information" (PDF). The Heritage Foundation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 November 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
  21. ^ "Subjective well-being in 97 countries" (PDF). University of Michigan. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
  22. ^ Mercer's 2012 Cost of Living Survey city rankings Archived 25 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. (18 December 2008). Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  23. ^ EIU Digital Solutions. "food, industry and risk analysis from The Economist Intelligence Unit – List of countries – The Economist Intelligence Unit".
  24. ^ Hanke, Steve H. (May 2014). "Measuring Misery around the World". Cato Institute.
  25. ^ "World Population Clock: 7.9 Billion People (2021) - Worldometer". Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  26. ^ "Admission of New Members to the United Nations - Rules of Procedure". United Nations. 26 November 2021.[failed verification]
  27. ^ OED, Country
  28. ^ a b John Simpson, Edmund Weiner (ed.). Oxford English Dictionary (1971 compact ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-861186-8. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  29. ^ "Publications Office – Interinstitutional Style Guide – Annex A5 – List of countries, territories and currencies".
  30. ^ UNGEGN World Geographical Names
  31. ^ "FAO Country Profiles".
  32. ^ Countries: Designations and abbreviations to use
  33. ^ "Declaratory and Consitutive Theories of State/Country Recognition". 26 November 2021.
  34. ^ "Made In The British Crown Colony". Thuy-Tien Crampton. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014.
  35. ^ "Matchbox label, made in Hong Kong". Archived from the original on 1 April 2014.
  36. ^ "Carrhart Made In Hong Kong?". ContractorTalk.
  37. ^
  38. ^ "Conflicted, conservative Bermuda stages first Pride parade". Reuters. 30 August 2019.
  39. ^ "World Economic and Situation Prospects 2019" (PDF). The United Nations. The United Nations. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  40. ^ "How does the World Bank classify countries?". The World Bank. The World Bank. Retrieved 18 January 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]