There is the German word Ort or Ortschaft which is a hypernym for places where people live like

  • villages
  • towns
  • cities


Is there a correspondent word in English?

I don't want to use location or place because they also represent geographical entities where no people live or even just buildings.

  • An example sentence would help me vote up one of 3 or so answers I currently feel match.
    – user14070
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 18:40
  • @JoshuaDrake Actually I was looking for a database table name which contains the names of villages and cities. Since it contains a lot of smaller "Orte" I didn't want to call it "City. I didn't expect such good and extensive, interesting answers. So just go with your guts and upvote all the good answers.
    – splattne
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 19:59
  • 3
    Link to chat discussion. (Between native speakers of German, BrEn, AmEn, Dutch and other languages.) The verdict is: forgetaboutit.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 21:21
  • As John Y mentions in a comment below, on legal forms the title for the blank line intended to designate where the person lives says "city". I think that this strengthens the notion to use "city" as the field name in the database.
    – dotancohen
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 0:38
  • 1
    This is why The Onion goes with the term "Area Man" :)
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 1:02

15 Answers 15


Settlement is the best I can think of. A collection of dwellings and other amenities that creates a community.

  • 5
    Except "settlement" has the connotation of being a small community on a frontier. An oil town in Alaska might be called a "settlement". I don't think anyone would think of modern New York or Los Angeles when you say "settlement".
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 15:18
  • 2
    Yes, Jay. But I am using a word that covers everything. You know, in a literal sense. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 15:21
  • 7
    Literally you are correct, however it carries a connotation of being a small community on a frontier as @Jay suggests. I'm neither going to vote this up nor down as it really depends on what the OP wanted - if it is a literal meaning, then it is fine, but it is not going to convey the right colloquial meaning to most English speakers. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 17:37
  • @Jay: but then maybe that would correspond better to the German which is also about a smaller community (i.e. Ort would most likely not be used for NY or LA).
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 19:51
  • Perhaps settlement wouldn't be used to describe New York City, but it technically could, since implied meaning aside, a settlement is defined as a state of stability or permanence.
    – Neil
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 9:01

The exact translation of 'Ortschaft' doesn't exist in English, that is, no single word that will replace 'Ortschaft' in the same contexts, but there are many words that sometimes fit depending.

  • municipality - a legal notion of an area of living where there is a governing body (mayor/manager, council, aldermen, or the like). A village probably doesn't have this level of management. This word is probably the closest to 'Ortschaft'.

  • incorporated (city/town/village) - incorporation' signifies that there is some organization, but modifies the more size-specific word.

The other suggestions, settlement, conurbation, built up area, community, all are appropriate in different contexts (a small town or village, a very large metropolitan area, a group of buildings, a group of like minded people, respectively).

City, town, village, incorporated, municipality all have their technical meanings in different localities and jurisdictions. In German , I take it that 'Ort' is more for describing smaller towns (e.g. Munich is probably not considered an Ortschaft).

  • 2
    Note that "incorporation" refers to a specific legal status. An unincorporated town is still a town.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 15:20
  • 4
    And they are specifically N. American. A UK resident probably wouldn't associated 'incorporated' with any sort of town.
    – mgb
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 15:28
  • 3
    "incorporated" is an adjective and needs a noun to be associated with, leaving you the same dilemma of what noun to use. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 17:30
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    +1 For municipality, which was the first thing I thought of when I read this question. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:37
  • 1
    'Municipality' is probably okay in casual (educated) conversation, but technically (e.g. for an official document) it's problematic: Cities can contain many municipalities, and municipalities can contain many towns and cities. It's a legal term the meaning of which varies from country to country, making it a bit of a can of worms. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Municipality Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 15:58

The word "city" can refer to any populated area. Places with only a few thousand people are routinely called "cities". I used to live in a town with a population of about 15,000, and the signs on the roads as you approached said "city limits", it was officially called "City of ...", etc. Likewise if you're filling out a form asking for your address and it says street, city, state, zip code, even people who live in the smallest communities rarely hesitate to fill in the name of that community. I've never heard someone ask, "What should I put here? I live in a small town, not a city."

However, "city" is also used to refer specifically to places with particularly large populations, as distinguished from a small town, suburb, or rural area.

So it depends on the context. If you asked someone, "What city do you live in?", people would normally understand you to mean a community of any size. But if you said, "I want to live in a city," people would probably understand you to mean a heavily-populated place. If you asked, "Do you live in a city?", someone who lived in New York or Los Angeles would immediately answer "yes"; someone who lived on a farm would answer "no"; and someone who lived in a mid-size town would probably ask what you meant.

You could say "community", but this is sometimes understood to mean a sub-division within a city or town.

"Populated area" might work, but is awkward for general conversation. It's not normally used to refer to a specific place, like you could say "the city of Boston", but you wouldn't say "the populated area of Boston". (You might say "the populated area of Detroit", to distinguish it from the areas that are empty as the people all move out. :-) But that's another story.)


Ah, given that you say that you just need to know what to call a certain part of an address in a database: I think the simple answer is, What country is this system to be used in? Then see what they routinely call it in that country. I suggest you go to the website of the postal service of the desired country and look for instructions on how to properly address envelope. In the US and Canada, we routinely call this part of the address the "city". In Britain and Singapore, its "town". In Australia, its "suburb". Etc. I suspect if you said "city" or "town" in the context of an address form, people in any English-speaking country would know what you meant.

  • 7
    This use of city is specifically American, too. British cities either have a Royal Charter or are very large. "I live in a small town, not a city" is definitely something a British person would ask!
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 16:14
  • 1
    If someone asked me what city I lived in, I would reply that I didn't. I live in a mid-sized town (Tullamore, Ireland).
    – TRiG
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 16:57
  • 3
    @AndrewLeach: So on a British address form, what is the thing called which comes after the street but before the postal code (and is not the county, which I believe is optional)?
    – John Y
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:19
  • 1
    @JohnY: Generally, Town, which is normally followed by County. County can be optional if the postcode is entered, but is normally necessary -- for example there are at least three Easingtons in the North East of England.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 6:29
  • @AndrewLeach: it's the Post Town (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_town), which could be a town, but may also be a city (e.g. London), or a borough (e.g. Barnet). Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 13:23

Residential area or built-up area are the best I can think of, but they are made by two words.



It is strage that this word was used in one of the answers in the explanation with just the meaning you seek, but it was not listed as an answer.

  • 1
    "Locality" is also the term used when issuing SSL certificates. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 11:59
  • Locality passes the Wikipedia test... They (Sept 2012) use the clunky but academic-friendly term Human Settlement with Locality, Settlement and Populated Place as synonyms. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locality_%28settlement%29 Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 16:33
  • Curiously, Googling "Locality" gave me this titbit in a mysterious side box next to the search results: "Urban areas in Sweden Urban area is a common English translation of the Swedish term tätort. The official term in English, used by Statistics Sweden, is, however, locality. There are 1,940 localities in Sweden. Wikipedia" Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 16:36
  • +1. In Russian, the term that perfectly suits the requested meaning is "населённый пункт". Google and Yandex (the latter one is Russian alternative to Google) both translate "населенный пункт" as "locality". Although DeepL (which is German) translates it as "populated area".
    – user90726
    Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 18:33

Conurbation covers towns, cities and suburbs, and so too does built-up area. If you want something that embraces rural areas as well, the closest you're likely to get is settlement, but you'd probably have to modify it by referring, for example, to settlements both large and small, or rural and urban settlements.

  • 2
    I don't think conurbation covers towns - nor even all cities (Lichfield and Ely are officially cities, but they're hardly conurbations). I agree with Google - a conurbation is an extended urban area, typically consisting of several towns merging with the suburbs of one or more cities Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 23:56
  • 1
    Technically, a conurbation is where multiple towns and cities have sprawled into each other, such as those around Tokyo in Japan and Birmingham in the UK. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conurbation Calling a rural town or village a conurbation would be very odd indeed, Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 16:03

The official generic term I've seen most often used, in contexts where such a term is needed (such as geospatial surveys), is "populated place". Of course, that's not a single word.

In you really want a single word, and seeing as you apparently only need it for internal use ("a database table name"), I might suggest just going with "town". It does connote a settlement of a particular size in various regions, but the actual size range it implies varies sufficiently between different parts of the world that almost any grouping of human dwellings could be called a "town" in some area. In any case, I would assume the meaning to be sufficiently clear in context.

  • 1
    "Town" is the winner, now that the Asker has told us what he wants it for. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 5:09
  • I agree, "town" is a fuzzy enough term to be used generically. For example, "Our Town" is a play about the fictional Grover's Corners, population 2,642; but "On the Town" and "Wonderful Town" are both musicals about New York City, which would have had a population around 7.5 million at the time they were written.
    – 1006a
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 18:28

I've always been partial to burg.

  • 1
    Also ville, podunk, backwater, and jerkwater. Eg, gastropoda.com and blogspot.com have references to Washington, DC as "that backwater on the Potomac". (The phrase "Glad to see that they got the power back on in that backwater on the Potomac" refers to a DC power failure). Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 17:15
  • 2
    My headline would have been 'DC without AC' or something similar. I'll be sure to call it a backwater when they make me go for work next month. :) Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 17:23

I think the closest English words to Ort would be district, or, neighborhood.

Historically I think "Parish" would be closest but with the decline of the established church and the increased centralization of government in English speaking countries the meaning of Parish as a unit of government has become eroded.

  • "Gemeinde" would be the translation for "parish", "Ort" is not the same thing I'm afraid. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 14:14

I would call them population centres.


You could possibly use the word "civic" followed by a word such as "area", "community" or some other qualifier depending on the context


You could use inhabitance:

The act of inhabiting, or the state of being inhabited

where inhabit means "to have residence in a place; to dwell; to live; to abide."


The term I would use is "urban area." It is possible that "urban" and "Ort" have a common, perhaps Latin, origin.

Example sentence: Most people in this country live crowded in "urban areas."

  • 6
    A village is never an urban area. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 15:52
  • It's true that "urban area" is "not commonly" used to describe villages. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_area. But in Anglo-Saxon countries like Australia, Canada, and the United States, they are used to describe collections of people in certain population densities, e.g. 1,000 or 1,500 people over so many square kilometers or miles. That includes SOME villages. In English idiom, "Never say never."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 19:44

I should prefer places, it seems to me the most neutral. Otherwise I'm just German.


place: 3.c. A locality, such as a town or city

  • Your suggestion sounds like the German Platz.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 13:07
  • If you mean Platz like a plaza you are right, but as often, there maybe more translations.
    – yunzen
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 17:31

I think in German there is such a generic term: Agglomeration. I'm not quite sure whether English agglomeration is used in the same way. But it may be that the term agglomeration is only used for large settlements.

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