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Often a country will have regions called "provinces" or "states". Other times they are called "territories" and "protectorates".

  1. Is there a generic term for these words?
  2. Is there a full list of words that belong to this group?
  3. What makes them different from each other?
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An interesting discussion is here: ask.metafilter.com/10632/… – OneProton Sep 30 '10 at 18:42
up vote 13 down vote accepted

A good general name for the entire group of such regions would be administrative division. The linked Wikipedia article has a comprehensive list, which also includes towns and cities, neighborhoods, an the like. The differences between these divisions all come down to:

  1. Size of the region
  2. Type of government
  3. Local language/naming conventions
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ISO 3166-2:2013 is "Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions - Part 2: Country subdivision". So you can assume that "subdivison" is a neutral and accepted term.

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This is helpful, but do you have any sources on what makes these divisions different? – Incognito Oct 1 '10 at 18:49
@user680 They are political or administrative subdivisions below the country level. Their origins, powers, and roles are all wildly different. Analyzing that is a bit off-topic here. – Peter Eisentraut Oct 1 '10 at 19:13

There are several questions in this question.

I don't know if there is a specific term for these words. I'll say "region words" for now.

As for a list, I can add

  • barony
  • canton
  • city
  • commissary
  • county
  • department
  • division
  • district
  • dominion
  • duchy
  • earldom
  • empire
  • governorate
  • intendancy
  • kingdom
  • municipality
  • parish
  • prefecture
  • principality
  • province
  • region
  • shire
  • state
  • territory
  • town
  • township
  • village
  • ward

The various definitions of these words tends to depend on which nation is using them. In Canada we have provinces and territories; they have different roles and their governments derive their authority from different sources.

Our provinces are similar to US states, but our constitution is very different and so the provinces have different rights and responsibilities than the states do.

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You can add "prefecture." Japan has prefectures. A prefecture is closer in amount of control as a US county. A prefecture can be dissolved or changed at any given time by the head government (in Tokyo). – OneProton Sep 30 '10 at 18:37
@Atømix Thanks, added. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 30 '10 at 19:08
I've made this answer CW so that others can add words to the list – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 30 '10 at 19:09
I added commissary and intendancy. These were used in Colombia until 1991 as mentioned on the Statoids site. – Jaime Soto Nov 9 '10 at 15:50
I don't think that "empire", "kingdom", or "principality" would be subdivisions of a larger nation. (But maybe you could find examples.) – Jay Oct 29 '12 at 20:55

RE part 3 of your question: A thorough discussion would veer from "language" into "politics" and "geography", but some high-level comments:

  1. Different subdivisions exist at different levels. For example, the United States is divided into "states", "commonwealths", "territories", and one "district". Each state is further subdivided into "counties", "divisions", or "parishes". In the states I've spent most of my life in, counties are further sub-divided into "townships". (I don't know off the top of my head how many states have townships versus some other subdivision.)

  2. Different subdivisions have different legal statuses. To again use the U.S. as an example, citizens of states and commonwealths get representatives in Congress and can vote for president. Citizens of the district do not get representatives but can vote for president. Citizens of territories neither have representatives nor can vote for president. On the other hand, citizens of territories don't have to pay federal income tax while the others do. Etc.

I'm just using the U.S. as my example because I live here. Other countries have similar schemes in the sense of having multiple levels and different legal statuses, but the names and details vary pretty widely.

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