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County vs. City: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on June 5, 2024
A county is a territorial division within a state, while a city is an incorporated municipality, often within a county.

Key Differences

A county is a larger territorial division within a state or country that provides specific governmental services to its residents. A city, on the other hand, is a specific, densely populated area within a county or counties that has its own local government and services.
In terms of governance, a county typically has elected officials, such as a county commission or board of supervisors, that oversee its administration. In contrast, a city usually has its own elected mayor, city council, or similar governing body responsible for local ordinances and public services.
From a geographical standpoint, a county encompasses a broader region that might include multiple towns, cities, and even rural areas. A city is generally more concentrated, focusing on a particular urban region with boundaries defined by local charters or state laws.
It's not uncommon for a city to provide more specialized services tailored to its urban residents, such as public transportation systems or cultural amenities. Conversely, a county might oversee broader services applicable to its entire territory, such as public health departments or judicial systems.
The cultural and historical significance of both can differ. Counties often carry the heritage and traditions of larger regions, while cities might be known for their distinct personalities, landmarks, and events closely tied to urban living.

Comparison Chart


A territorial division within a state
An incorporated, densely populated municipality


Encompasses a broader region
Focuses on a specific urban area


Has county officials like a commission
Has city officials like a mayor or city council


Provides broader services for the entire territory
Offers services tailored to urban residents

Cultural Significance

Carries the heritage of larger regions
Known for distinct personalities and urban landmarks

County and City Definitions


County can represent regions with shared services and governance.
The county hospital serves all residents within its boundaries.


City is a large populated urban area.
New York City is known for its iconic skyline.


County is a territorial division of a state or country.
The county of Los Angeles is one of the most populated in the U.S.


City offers specialized services to its residents.
The city's public transportation system is extensive and efficient.


County might have historical or cultural significance.
The county fair is a yearly tradition that celebrates local heritage.


City is a municipality with its own local government.
The city council meets every month to discuss local issues.


County can encompass multiple towns and municipalities.
Several small towns are located within the county's borders.


City often possesses a unique character or culture.
The city is famous for its annual jazz festival.


County is a unit of local government.
The county sheriff is responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas.


City has distinct boundaries set by local or state laws.
The city limits extend up to the river on the eastern side.


The largest administrative division of most states in the United States.


A center of population, commerce, and culture; a town of significant size and importance.


A territorial division exercising administrative, judicial, and political functions in Great Britain and Ireland.


An incorporated municipality in the United States with definite boundaries and legal powers set forth in a charter granted by the state.


What are the responsibilities of city officials?

City officials, like mayors or city councils, handle local ordinances, public services, and other urban-focused duties.

Who governs a county?

Typically, counties are governed by elected officials such as a county commission or board of supervisors.

How does one know if they live in a city or unincorporated county?

Property deeds, tax documents, or local governance websites can provide this information.

Can a city be larger than a county?

It's rare, but some cities might span multiple counties, making the city's land area larger than individual counties.

Do all counties have cities within them?

Not necessarily; some counties might be predominantly rural without significant urban centers.

Can a city exist outside of a county?

In most U.S. contexts, cities are within counties, but there are exceptions, like independent cities in Virginia.

What services might a county provide?

Counties often manage services like public health, judicial systems, and infrastructure maintenance.

How are county boundaries determined?

County boundaries are often set by historical, geographical, or administrative considerations.

Are county and city taxes different?

They can be, as cities and counties might have separate tax levies based on their specific budgets and service responsibilities.

Do all states in the U.S. have counties?

Most do, but some, like Louisiana, use different terms such as "parishes."

Can a place be both a city and a county?

Yes, some jurisdictions, like San Francisco, serve as both a city and a county.

Why do counties exist?

Counties facilitate regional governance, providing shared services and representation for areas within a state.

Can a city span multiple counties?

Yes, larger cities like New York or Atlanta span multiple counties.

How do city services differ from county services?

City services often focus on urban needs like public transportation, while county services might cater to broader regional needs.

Are there areas without city or county governance?

In the U.S., nearly all land falls under some level of governance, but there are unincorporated areas that might lack specific city structures.

How is a county different from a city?

A county is a broader territorial division, while a city is an incorporated municipality often within a county.

Are all cities urban?

Most cities are urban, but the term "city" in governance can sometimes apply to smaller or less densely populated areas.

What distinguishes a town from a city?

The distinction often involves population size, governance structures, or local/state definitions.

How is the cultural significance of cities and counties different?

Counties might represent broader regional heritage, while cities can have distinct personalities tied to urban landmarks and events.

Can a city's boundaries change?

Yes, through processes like annexation, cities can expand their boundaries.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
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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