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Lieutenant (abbreviated Lt, LT, or Lieut) is a military, naval, paramilitary, fire service, emergency medical services or police officer rank.

Lieutenant may also appear as part of a title used in various other organisations with a codified command structure. It often designates someone who is "second-in-command," and as such, may precede the name of the rank directly above it. For example, a "Lieutenant Master" is likely to be second-in-command to the "Master" in an organization utilizing both such ranks. Notable uses include Lieutenant Governor in various governments, and Quebec lieutenant in Québécois politics.


The word lieutenant derives from French; the lieu meaning "place" as in a position; and tenant meaning "holding" as in "holding a position"; thus a "lieutenant" is somebody who holds a position in the absence of his or her superior (compare the Latin locum tenens). Similar words in other languages include the Arabic mulāzim ( ), meaning "holding a place", and the Hebrew word segen ( ), meaning "deputy" or "second to".

In the nineteenth century, British writers who either considered this word an imposition on the English language, or difficult for common soldiers and sailors, argued for it to be replaced by the calque "steadholder." However, their efforts failed, and the French word is still used, along with its Lieutenant-Colonel variation, in both the Old and the New World.


Pronunciation of lieutenant is generally split between the forms lef-tenant ( ) and lieu-tenant ( ), with the former generally associated with the United Kingdom, Ireland and Commonwealth countries, and the latter generally associated with the United States. The earlier history of the pronunciation is unclear; Middle English spellings suggest that the and pronunciations existed even then. The rare Old French variant spelling luef for Modern French lieu ('place') supports the suggestion that a final of the Old French word was in certain environments perceived as an .

In Royal Naval—and other English-speaking navies outside the United States—tradition, the intermediate pronunciation was preserved. This is not recognized as current by the OED, however, and by 1954 the Royal Canadian Navy, at least, regarded it as "obsolescent" even while regarding "the army's 'LEF-tenant'" to be "a corruption of the worst sort".

Army ranks

Conventionally, armies and other services or branches which use army-style rank titles have two grades of Lieutenant, but a few also use a third, more junior, rank.

Historically the "Lieutenant" was the deputy to a "Captain", and as the rank structure of armies began to formalise, this came to mean that a Captain commanded a company and had several Lieutenants, each commanding a platoon. Where more junior officers were employed as deputies to the Lieutenant, they went by many names, including Second Lieutenant, Sub-Lieutenant, Ensign and Cornet. Some parts of the British Army, including the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, and fusilier regiments, used First Lieutenant as well as Second Lieutenant until the end of the 19th century, and some British Army regiments still preserve Cornet as an official alternative to Second Lieutenant.

Lieutenant/First Lieutenant

The senior grade of Lieutenant is known as First Lieutenant in the United Statesmarker, and as Lieutenant in the United Kingdommarker and the rest of the English-speaking world. In countries which do not speak English, the rank title usually translates as "Lieutenant", but may also translate as "First Lieutenant" or "Senior Lieutenant".

There is great variation in the insignia used worldwide. In most English-speaking and Arabic-speaking countries, as well as a number of European and South American nations, full lieutenants (and equivalents) usually wear two stars and second lieutenants (and equivalents) one. An example of an exception is the United States, whose armed forces distinguish their lieutenant ranks with one silver bar for First Lieutenant and one gold (brass) bar for Second Lieutenant.

File:Australian-Army-LT.gif|Australian Lieutenant

Image:CA-Army-OF1a.gif|Canadian Lieutenant

Image:IE-Army-OF1a.png|Republic of IrelandFile:Nl-landmacht-eerste luitenant.svg|Eerste-Luitenant insignia of the Royal Netherlands ArmyImage:SL-Army-OF1a_Lieutenant.PNG|Sri Lanka

Image:US Army O2 shoulderboard.svg|US First Lieutenant

Second Lieutenant

Second Lieutenant is usually the most junior grade of commissioned officer. In most cases, newly commissioned officers do not remain at the rank for long before being promoted, and both university graduates and officers commissioned from the ranks may skip the rank altogether. In non-English-speaking countries, the equivalent rank title may translate as "Second Lieutenant", "Lieutenant", "Sub-Lieutenant" or "Junior Lieutenant". Non-English terms include Alférez (Spanish Army and Air Force), Fenrik (Norwegian Army), Ensign, or Leutnant (German Army), Løjtnant (Danish Army). In the US Army a Second Lieutenant may be referred to as a "butter bar" because of the gold bar that represents their rank.

File:Australian-Army-2LT.gif|Australian Second LieutenantImage:CA-Army-OF1b.gif|Canadian Second Lieutenant or Sous-lieutenantImage:SL-Army-OF1b_Second_Lieutenant.PNG‎|Sri LankaImage:US Army O1 shoulderboard.svg|US Second LieutenantImage:DM-Army-OF1c.gif|Danish LøjtnantImage:FR-Army-OF1b.gif|French Sous-lieutenantImage:IE-Army-OF1b.png|Republic of Ireland Second Lieutenant

Third Lieutenant

A few non-English-speaking militaries maintain a lower rank, frequently translated as "Third Lieutenant". The rank title may actually translate as "Second Lieutenant", "Junior Lieutenant", "Sub-Lieutenant" or "Ensign". The Soviet Unionmarker used three ranks of Lieutenant, and Warsaw Pact countries similarly standardised their ranking system. Some of the former Soviet and Warsaw Pact nations have now discarded the third rank.

Throughout the 19th century, until as late as World War II, the United States Army sometimes referred to Brevet Second Lieutenants as "Third Lieutenants." These were typically newly commissioned officers for which no authorized Second Lieutenant position existed. Additionally, the Confederate States Army also used "Third Lieutenant", typically as the lowest ranking commissioned officer in an infantry company.

In Finland there exist three lieutenant ranks for army with lowest being not a "Third Lieutenant" but a Second Lieutenant or Ensign (insigna one Heraldic rose in collar or one golden bar in sleeve), when First Lieutenant (simply "Lieutenant", two roses in collar or two bars in sleeve), highest rank right below Captain being Senior Lieutenant (literal translation "Super Lieutenant", insigna two roses with one golden bar between them in collar or two thin bars above one thicker bar in sleeve)

In the US Air Force, the Third Lieutenant Program refers specifically to a training program at active duty bases for cadets the Air Force Academy, Air Force ROTC the summer before their fourth and final year before graduation and commissioning. A single silver or subdued pip is used to designate this rank. A similar program, Cadet Troop Leadership Training, exist in the US Army.

Image:GE-Army-OR6b.gif|German FähnrichImage:POR-Army-OF1c.gif|Portuguese Aspirante-a-Oficial

Naval rank

Lieutenant Commander

Lieutenants were commonly put in command of smaller vessels not warranting a Commander or Captain: such a Lieutenant was called a "Lieutenant Commanding" or "Lieutenant Commandant" in the United States Navy, and a "Lieutenant in Command" or "Lieutenant and Commander" in the Royal Navy. The USN settled on "Lieutenant Commander" in 1862, and made it a distinct rank; the RN followed suit in March 1914. The insignia of an additional half-stripe between the two full stripes of a Lieutenant was introduced in 1877 for a Royal Navy Lieutenant of 8 years seniority, and used for Lieutenant Commanders upon introduction of their rank.


Since 1580 the Lieutenants in a ship had been the officers immediately subordinate to the Captain. Before the English Restoration Lieutenants were appointed by their Captains, and this inevitably led to abuses and to the widespread appointment of men of insufficient qualification. In 1677 Samuel Pepys introduced the first examination for Lieutenant, and it is from the date of this examination that their seniority was set. Lieutenants were numbered by their seniority within the ship, so that a frigate, which was entitled to three would have a First Lieutenant, a Second Lieutenant, and a Third Lieutenant. A first-rate was entitled to six, and they were numbered accordingly. At first a Lieutenant's commission was given only for the ship in which he served, but after the loss of HMS Wager and the subsequent mutiny, Lieutenants were given commissions upon passing their examination.

During the early days of the naval rank, a Lieutenant might be very junior indeed, or might be on the cusp of promotion to Captain; by modern standards he might rank with any army rank between Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant Colonel. As the rank structure of navies stabilised, and the ranks of Commander, Lieutenant Commander and Sub-Lieutenant were introduced, the naval Lieutenant came to rank with an Army Captain (NATO OF-2 or US O-3).

The insignia of a Lieutenant in many navies, including the Royal Navy, consists of two medium gold braid stripes (top stripe with loop) on a navy blue or black background. This pattern was copied by the United States Navy and various Air Forces for their equivalent ranks grades, except that the loop is removed. (see Flight Lieutenant).

Image:UK-Navy-OF2.svg|British Lieutenant, Royal NavyImage:US Navy O3 insignia.svg|US Navy LieutenantImage:UK-Navy-OF2.svg|Sri Lankan Navy LieutenantImage:RO-Navy-OF-3s.png|Romanian CăpitanImage:POL PMW pagon1 kapitan marynarki.svg|Polish Kapitan marynarkiImage:Nl-marine-vloot-luitenant ter zee der 2e klasse oudste categorie.svg|Netherlands Luitenant ter zee (der 2de klasse oudste categorie)Image:GE-NAVY-OF-2a KptLt.png|German Kapitänleutnant

"First Lieutenant" in naval usage

The First Lieutenant (1st Lt) in the Royal Navy and other Commonwealth navies, is a post or appointment, rather than a rank. Historically the Lieutenants in a ship were ranked in accordance with seniority, with the most senior being termed the First Lieutenant and acting as the second-in-command. Although Lieutenants are no longer numbered by seniority, the post of "First Lieutenant" remains. In minor war vessels, destroyers and frigates the First Lieutenant (either a Lieutenant or Lieutenant-Commander) is second in command, Executive Officer (XO) and head of the executive branch; in larger ships where a Commander of the warfare specialisation is appointed as the Executive Officer, a First Lieutenant (normally a Lieutenant-Commander) is appointed as his deputy. The post of First Lieutenant in a shore establishment carries a similar responsibility to the First Lieutenant of a Capital Ship.

In the US Navy or US Coast Guard the billet of First Lieutenant describes the officer in charge of the Deck Department or Division, depending upon the size of the ship. In smaller ships with only a single Deck Division, the billet is typically filled by an Ensign while in larger ships with a Deck Department, consisting of multiple subordinate Divisions, the billet may be filled by a Lieutenant Commander. On submarines and smaller Coast Guard cutters the billet of First Lieutenant may be filled by a Petty Officer.


In the Royal Navy the commissioned rank of Mate was created in 1840, and was renamed Sub-Lieutenant in 1860. In many navies, a Sub-Lieutenant is a naval commissioned or subordinate officer, ranking below a lieutenant, but in Brazil it is the highest non-commissioned rank, and in Spain it is the second highest non-commissioned rank.

Marine rank

The United States Marine Corps and British Royal Marines both use army ranks, while many former Eastern-Bloc marine forces retain the naval form. Before 1999 the Royal Marines enjoyed the same rank structure as the army, but at a grade lower; thus a Royal Marine Captain ranked with and was paid the same as an British Army Major. This historical remnent caused increasing confusion in multi-national operations and was abolished.

Air force rank

While some air forces use the army rank system, the British Royal Air Force and some other Commonwealth air forces use another rank system in which Flight Lieutenant ranks with an army Captain or naval Lieutenant, a Flying Officer ranks with an army Lieutenant, and a Pilot Officer with an army Second Lieutenant.

Image:US-O3 insignia.svg|USAF CaptainImage:US-OF1A.svg|USAF First LieutenantImage:US-OF1B.svg|USAF Second LieutenantImage:UK-Air-OF2.svg|UK Royal Air Force Flight LieutenantImage:UK-Air-OF1A.svg|UK Royal Air Force Flying OfficerImage:UK-Air-OF1B.svg|UK Royal Air Force Pilot Officer

Police rank

The rank of Police Lieutenant is used in most police forces in the United States. It is normally roughly equivalent to the British Police Inspector. Scottish police forces used the rank of Lieutenant between Inspector and Superintendent from 1812 to 1947. Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (founded 1871) had the rank of Lieutenant between Staff Sergeant and Inspector until 1997. In Australia, Queensland's first police force (founded 1864) had Second Lieutenants and Lieutenants between Sergeant and Inspector-General. The first Lieutenant of Police, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, was appointed in Paris by Louis XIV on 15 March 1667 to command a reformed police force. He was later elevated to Lieutenant-General. There are examples in other countries.

Image:US-OF1A.svg|US Police Lieutenant

Image:Inspector.jpg|Romanian Inspector de poliţieImage:Police Sub-Inspector.png|Indian Sub-Inspector of Police

Fire services rank

In the US the junior officer grade of the Fire Service is the Lieutenant. The most common insignia for fire department lieutenants are collar and cover devices commonly called bugles (though they are really representative of 18th century speaking trumpets); a lieutenant usually displays a single gold bugle, though some variations exist. In addition to the bugle, lieutenants often display a gold sleeve band and wear a helmet of a different color from those worn by their subordinates. Many cities and towns, however, employ a wide variety of other ranks and insignia. The US rank corresponds roughly with the traditional UK Fire Brigade Sub-Officer, which had now been discontinued. Lieutenants are typically responsible for an individual engine or ladder company and its crew.

Other uses

The British monarch's representatives in the counties of the United Kingdommarker are called Lords Lieutenant. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland performed the function of viceroy in Irelandmarker. In French history, "lieutenant du roi" was a title borne by the officer sent with military powers to represent the king in certain provinces. It is in the sense of a deputy that it has entered into the titles of more senior officers, Lieutenant General and Lieutenant Colonel.

The Salvation Army also uses Lieutenant to denote first time officers, or clergymen/women.

See also


  1. American Heritage Dictionary, s.v. " Lieutenant".
  2. Oxford English Dictionary.
  3. A. D. Taylor, Customs of the Navy, 1954.
  4. Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, by J D Davies, Oxford University Press, 1991, ISBN 9780198202639, p.40

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