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In geography, a country is a geographical region. The term is often applied to a political division or the territory of a state, or to a smaller, or former, political division of a geographical region. Usually, but not always, a country coincides with a sovereign territory and is associated with a state, nation and government.

The country can also mean the countryside, as opposed to the city.

In common usage, the term country is used in the sense of both nations and states, with definitions varying. In some cases it is used to refer both to states and to other political entities, while in some occasions it refers only to states It is not uncommon for general information or statistical publications to adopt the wider definition for purposes such as illustration and comparison.

Some cohesive geographical entities, which were formerly sovereign states, are commonly regarded and referred to still as countries; such as Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker – in the United Kingdommarker. Historically, the countries of the former Soviet Unionmarker and Yugoslavia were others. Former states such as Bavariamarker (now part of Germany) and Piedmont (now part of Italy) would not normally be referred to as "countries" in contemporary English. The degree of autonomy of non-state countries varies widely. Some are possessions of states, as several states have overseas dependencies (such as the British Virgin Islandsmarker, Saint Pierre and Miquelonmarker, and American Samoamarker), with territory and citizenry distinct from their own. Such dependent territories are sometimes listed together with independent states on lists of countries, and may be treated as a "country of origin" in international trade, as Hong Kongmarker is. Some countries are divided among several states, such as Silesia and Kurdistanmarker.

Etymology and development of the word

Country has developed from the Latin contra, meaning "against", used in the sense of "that which lies against, or opposite to, the view", i.e. the landscape spread out to the view. From this came the Late Latin term contrata, which became the modern Italian contrada. The term appears in Middle English from the 13th century, already in several different senses.

In English the word has increasingly become associated with political divisions, so that one sense, associated with the indefinite article - "a country" - is now a synonym for state, in the sense of sovereign territory. Areas much smaller than a political state may be called by names such as the West Country in England, the Black Countrymarker (a heavily industrialized part of England), "Constable Country" (a part of East Angliamarker painted by John Constable), the "big country" (used in various contexts of the American West), "coal country" (used of parts of the US and elsewhere) and many other terms.

The equivalent terms in French and Romance languages (pays and variants) and the Germanic Languagess (Land and variants) have not carried the process of being identified with political sovereign states as far as the English "country", and in many European countries the words are used for sub-divisions of the national territory, as in the German Länder, as well as a less formal term for a sovereign state. France has very many "pays" that are officially recognised at some level, and are either natural regions, like the Pays de Braymarker, or reflect old political or economic unities, like the Pays de la Loiremarker. At the same time Wales, the United States, and Brazil are also "pays" in everyday French speech.

A version of "country" can be found in the modern French language as contrée, based on the word cuntrée in Old French, that is used similarly to the word "pays" to define regions and unities, but can also be used to describe a political state in some particular cases. The modern Italian contrada is a word with its meaning varying locally, but usually meaning a ward or similar small division of a town, or a village or hamlet in the countryside.

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