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?
  • 2
    An interesting discussion is here: ask.metafilter.com/10632/…
    – OneProton
    Sep 30, 2010 at 18:42
  • This question seeks a hypernym for entities of two very different kinds: those that are within the country in question, and those that are outside it, but still in some way dependent on it. None of the answers offers a term that would be immediately recognised as covering both, probably because there isn't one.
    – jsw29
    Jun 16, 2021 at 16:06

4 Answers 4


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
  • 1
    Are you suggesting that there's no single term that includes prefectures, states, territories, etc. without also incorporating other types of entities, such as municipalities? Aug 4, 2017 at 12:44
  • The term administrative divisions may be taken to imply that they have been created 'from above', by the central government, rather than having some pre-existent rights. It thus may not be appropriate for the political entities voluntarily joined in a federation.
    – jsw29
    Jun 16, 2021 at 16:15

ISO 3166-2:2020 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.

  • This is helpful, but do you have any sources on what makes these divisions different?
    – Incognito
    Oct 1, 2010 at 18:49
  • 2
    @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. Oct 1, 2010 at 19:13
  • A territory can also be a division that is itself a country separate from the country that ultimately controls it. The US has one territory inside the actual country (District of Columbia), but it has several that are other countries under US jurisdiction. Yet both kinds are referred to as "US territories". Aug 4, 2017 at 12:45

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.

  • 2
    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, 2010 at 18:37
  • 2
    I've made this answer CW so that others can add words to the list Sep 30, 2010 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, 2010 at 15:50
  • 1
    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, 2012 at 20:55
  • 1
    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 Well, the original question was for subdivisions of "countries". I could get really pedantic here and say that if an empire is made up of many kingdoms, than it's bigger than a country and thus outside the scope of the question. :-)
    – Jay
    Oct 30, 2012 at 14:51

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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