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Admiral vs. Colonel: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on October 17, 2023
"Admiral" is a high-ranking naval officer, while "Colonel" is a senior military officer rank below a brigadier general in the Army or Air Force.

Key Differences

"Admiral" and "Colonel" both refer to ranks within a nation's military, but they belong to different branches and hierarchies. An "Admiral" is specifically associated with naval forces. Depending on the country's system, there can be different types of admirals, with a full admiral typically being the highest rank.
Conversely, "Colonel" is a rank that primarily exists within land-based armed forces, such as the Army, and in some countries, the Air Force. The rank of Colonel is usually below that of a Brigadier General or its equivalent but is above a Lieutenant Colonel.
The responsibilities of an "Admiral" would often involve command over fleets, naval bases, or significant naval operations. An Admiral's jurisdiction would be over the sea, while their authority would span multiple ships and even entire naval installations.
In contrast, a "Colonel" would commonly have command over a regiment or brigade in the Army. Their sphere of influence would be land-centric, overseeing troops, strategizing land campaigns, or even training military personnel.

Comparison Chart


Army or Air Force

Rank Level

Senior rank below Brigadier General

Typical Responsibilities

Commands fleets or naval bases
Commands regiments or brigades

Terrain Jurisdiction

Land (or air in the case of Air Force)

Example of Higher Rank

Fleet Admiral (in some nations)
Brigadier General or its equivalent

Admiral and Colonel Definitions


A butterfly of the genus "Vanessa."
He spotted a beautiful Admiral fluttering by.


A senior military officer rank below Brigadier General.
The Colonel had 30 years of service in the Army.


A senior naval officer of high rank.
The Admiral oversaw the entire Pacific fleet.


The honorary title in the U.S. state militias.
He was named a Kentucky Colonel for his contributions.


A leader or head of a group or endeavor.
He was the Admiral of the expedition.


A significant figure or leader in an organization.
He was a Colonel in the industry, setting standards for others.


The commander in chief of a fleet.


An informal term for a figure of authority.
He was the Colonel of his domain at home.


A flag officer.


A title used in certain European military services.
In France, he served as a Colonel.


A commissioned rank in the US Navy or Coast Guard that is above vice admiral and below Fleet Admiral.


A commissioned rank in the US Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps that is above lieutenant colonel and below brigadier general.


One who holds the rank of admiral, Fleet Admiral, rear admiral, or vice admiral.


One who holds this rank or a similar rank in another military organization.


Any of various brightly colored nymphalid butterflies of the genera Limenitis and Vanessa, especially V. atalanta, having black wings with red bands.


An honorary nonmilitary title awarded by some states of the United States.


(Archaic) The ship carrying an admiral; flagship.


A commissioned officer in an armed military organization, typically the highest rank before flag officer ranks (generals). It is generally found in armies, air forces or naval infantry (marines).


A naval officer of the highest rank; the commander of a country's naval forces.


(intransitive) To act as or like a colonel.


A naval officer of high rank, immediately below Admiral of the Fleet; the commander of a fleet or squadron.


The chief officer of a regiment; an officer ranking next above a lieutenant colonel and next below a brigadier general.


A flag officer in the United States Navy or Coast Guard of a grade superior to vice admiral and junior to admiral of the fleet (when that grade is used). An admiral is equal in grade or rank to a four-star general.


A commissioned military officer in the United States Army or Air Force or Marines who ranks above a lieutenant colonel and below a brigadier general


The ship which carries the admiral, the flagship; also, the most considerable ship of a fleet.


(obsolete) A prince or Saracen leader under the Sultan.


Any of various nymphalid butterflies of the genera Kaniska, Limenitis and Vanessa, especially a red admiral or white admiral.


A naval officer of the highest rank; a naval officer of high rank, of which there are different grades. The chief gradations in rank are admiral, vice admiral, and rear admiral. The admiral is the commander in chief of a fleet or of fleets.


The ship which carries the admiral; also, the most considerable ship of a fleet.
Like some mighty admiral, dark and terrible, bearing down upon his antagonist with all his canvas straining to the wind, and all his thunders roaring from his broadsides.


A handsome butterfly (Pyrameis Atalanta) of Europe and America. The larva feeds on nettles.


The supreme commander of a fleet; ranks above a vice admiral and below a fleet admiral


Any of several brightly colored butterflies


The chief commander of a navy.
As an Admiral, he was responsible for naval strategies.


A title given to the leading ship of a fleet.
The Admiral led the other vessels into the harbor.


Is "Admiral" a higher rank than "Colonel"?

Within their respective branches, an Admiral is a high-ranking naval officer, while a Colonel is a senior officer but below general ranks.

What is the equivalent of a Colonel in the Navy?

The equivalent rank in the U.S. Navy is Captain.

Which rank is more prevalent, Admiral or Colonel?

There are usually more Colonels than Admirals because of the hierarchical structure of the military.

What military branch is the rank of "Admiral" associated with?

The Navy.

Is "Rear Admiral" a lower rank than a full "Admiral"?

Yes, a Rear Admiral is typically lower in rank than a full Admiral.

Are there variations to the rank of Admiral?

Yes, depending on the country, there might be ranks like Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, and full Admiral.

Can someone move from the rank of Colonel in the Army to an Admiral in the Navy?

Typically, no. They are separate career paths in different branches of the military.

Which military branches use the rank of "Colonel"?

Primarily the Army and the Air Force.

In terms of command, what might a Colonel typically oversee?

A Colonel might command a regiment or brigade.

What's the primary responsibility of an Admiral?

Admirals often have command over fleets, naval bases, or significant naval operations.

How is the rank of Admiral denoted?

It varies by country, but often through a combination of stars, stripes, or other insignia on their uniform.

Which rank typically has a longer tenure, Admiral or Colonel?

It varies, but reaching the rank of Admiral usually implies a longer tenure in service due to its higher position in the hierarchy.

How many Colonels might there be compared to a Brigadier General?

There are typically more Colonels than Brigadier Generals, as each subsequent rank up becomes more selective.

Is "Colonel" ever used outside of a military context?

Yes, occasionally. For example, "Kentucky Colonel" is an honorary title in the state of Kentucky.

Are there any popular cultural references associated with the ranks of Admiral and Colonel?

Yes, both ranks have been portrayed in movies, TV shows, books, and more, reflecting their leadership roles in the military.

Do both Admirals and Colonels engage in combat?

While they are trained for combat, their senior positions often involve more strategic planning and leadership roles.

Do all countries with armed forces have the rank of Colonel?

Most do, but the responsibilities and insignia associated with the rank might vary.

Which rank has a more administrative role?

Both ranks involve significant administrative duties, but Admirals, given their higher rank, might have broader strategic and administrative responsibilities.

How do officers attain the rank of Admiral or Colonel?

Through a combination of experience, performance evaluations, training, and sometimes political appointments.

Is the term "Admiral" used in any non-military contexts?

Yes, sometimes in a figurative sense to denote leadership or command. It's also the name of a type of butterfly.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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