A town is a type of settlement ranging from a few to several thousand (occasionally hundreds of thousands) inhabitants, although it may be applied loosely even to huge metropolitan areas; the precise meaning varies between countries and is not always a matter of legal definition. Usually, a "town" is thought of as larger than a village but smaller than a "city", though there are exceptions to this rule. The words "city" and "village" came into English from Latin via French. "Town" and "borough" (also "burrow", "burgh", "bury", etc.) are of native Germanic origin, from Old English burg, a fortified settlement, and tūn, an enclosed piece of land.
The word Town is related to the German word Zaun [tsown ≈ English] and the Dutch word tuin [toin ≈ English]. The German word Zaun comes closest to the original meaning of the word, being some sort of wooden fence or wall. In English and Dutch the meaning of the word has converged with the space these fences used to enclose. In English that was a small city which (way into the 18th century) couldn't afford or wasn’t allowed to build walls or other larger fortifications, and build a palisade/stockade instead (lots of early English settlements in America are a good example of that). In the Netherlands this space was a garden, more specifically the richer ones which had a high fence or a wall around them (like the garden of palace 't Loo in Apeldoorn which was the example for the privy garden of William and Mary at Hamptoncourt). In Norse/Norwegian "tun" means the (grassy) place between the farms houses.
In Old English and Early and Middle Scots, the word ton, toun, etc. could refer to kinds of settlement as diverse as agricultural estates and holdings, partly picking up the Norse sense (as in the Scots word fermtoun) at one end of the scale to fortified municipality at the other. If there was ever properly any distinction between toun (fortified municipality) and burgh (unfortified municipality) it did not last in practice as burghs and touns developed. For example "Edina Burgh" or "Edinburgh" (modernly called a city) was built around a fort and eventually came to have a defensive wall.
In some cases, "town" is an alternate name for "city" or "village" (especially a larger village). Sometimes, the word "town" is short for "township." In general, towns can be differentiated from townships, villages, or hamlets on the basis of their economic character, in that most of a town's population will tend to derive their living from manufacturing industry, commerce, and public service rather than primary industry such as agriculture or related activities.
A place's population size is not a reliable determinant of urban character. In many areas of the world, as in India at least until recent times, a large village might contain several times as many people as a small town. In the United Kingdom, there are historical cities that are far smaller than the larger towns.
The modern phenomenon of extensive suburban growth, satellite urban development, and migration of city-dwellers to villages have further complicated the definition of towns, creating communities urban in their economic and cultural characteristics but lacking other characteristics of urban localities.
Some forms of non-rural settlement, such as temporary mining locations, may be clearly non-rural, but have at best a questionable claim to be called a town.
Towns often exist as distinct governmental units, with legally defined borders and some or all of the appurtenances of local government (e.g., a police force). In the United States these are referred to as "incorporated towns". In other cases the town lacks its own governance and is said to be "unincorporated". Note that the existence of an unincorporated town may be legally set forth through other means, as through zoning districts. In the case of some planned communities, the town exists legally in the form of covenants on the properties within the town. The United States Census identifies many Census Designated Places by the names of unincorporated towns which lie within them; however, those CDPs typically include rural and suburban areas and even surrounding villages and other towns.
The distinction between a town and a city similarly depends on the approach adopted: a city may strictly be an administrative entity which has been granted that designation by law, but in informal usage, the term is also used to denote an urban locality of a particular size or importance: whereas a medieval city may have possessed as few as 10,000 inhabitants, today some consider an urban place of fewer than 100,000 as a town, even though there are many officially designated cities that are very, very much smaller than that.
In Australia, the status of a town is formally applied in only a few states. Most states do define cities, and towns are commonly understood to be those centres of population not formally declared to be cities and usually with a population in excess of about 250 people.
The creation and delimitation of Local Government Areas is the responsibility of the state and territory Governments. In all states and the Northern Territory each incorporated area has an official status. The various LGA status types currently in use are:
In Bulgaria the Council of Ministers defines what constitutes a settlement, while the President of Bulgaria grants each settlement its title. In 2005 the requirement that villages that wish to classify themselves as town must have a social and technical infrastructure, as well as a population of no less than 3500 persons. For resort settlements the requirements are lower with the population needing to be no less than 1000 persons, (infrastructure requirements remain).
In Chile towns are defined by the National Statistics Institute (INE) as an urban entity with a population from 2001 to 5000 or an area with a population from 1001 to 2000 and an established economic activity.
In Denmark no distinction is made between "city", "town" and "village"; all three translate as "by".
For very small villages (hamlets) the word "landsby" is used (appr. "country town" or "rural town").
From an administrative standpoint, the smallest level of local authorities are all called "communes". However, some laws do treat these authorities differently based on the population and specific rules apply to the three main cities Paris, Lyon and Marseille. For historical reasons, six communes in the Meuse département still exist as independent entities despite having no inhabitant at all.
For statistical purposes, the national statistical institute (INSEE) operates a distinction between urban areas with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants and bigger communes, the latter being called "villes". Smaller settlements are usually called "villages". In any case, the French language does not commonly make a difference between towns and cities.
Germans do not, in general, differentiate between city and town. The German word for both is "Stadt" as it is in many other languages that do not make any difference between the Anglo-Saxon concepts. A town with more than 100,000 inhabitants is called a "Großstadt", which is the most adequate equivalence for city. In Germany also the historical importance (many settlements became a "Stadt" by being awarded a "Stadtrecht" in medieval times), the centrality and the population density of an urban place might be taken as characteristics of a "city". The word for a "village", as a smaller settlement, is "Dorf".
In southern German states the word Markt or Marktflecken designates a town-like residential community between village and city.
The current local government organisation is subject to state law of a state and the related denomination of a specific settlement may differ from its common designation (e.g. Samtgemeinde - a Lower Saxony legal term for a group of villages (Dorf, pl. Dörfer) with common local government). Designations in different states are as diverse as for example in Australian States and Territories and differ from state to state.
In Hungary, a village can gain the status of "város" (town), if it meets a set of diverse conditions for quality of life and development of certain public services and utilities (e.g. having a local secondary school or installing full-area sewage collection pipe network). Every year the Minister of Internal Affairs selects candidates from a committee-screened list of applicants, whom the President of Republic usually affirms by issuing a bill of town's rank to them. Since being a town carries extra fiscal support from the government, many relatively small villages try to win the status of "városi rang" nowadays.
Before the fall of communism in 1990, Hungarian villages under 10,000 residents were not allowed to become towns. Recently some settlements as small as 2,500 souls have received the rank of town (e.g. Zalakaros or Gönc) and meeting the conditions of development are often disregarded to quickly elevate larger villages into towns. As of early 2007, there are 289 towns in Hungary, encompassing some 65% of the entire population.
Towns of more than 50,000 people are able to gain the status of "megyei jog" (town with the rights of a county), which allows them to maintain own courts and a higher degree of autonomy. As of early 2007, there are only 23 such towns in Hungary.
The expression "Town" in Ireland has a similar history as in England and Wales and is surrounded by a similar penumbra of ambiguity. However it is used officially in several different contexts as follows
The Local Government act 2001 provides that from January 1, 2002 (section 10 subsection (3)Within the county in which they are situated and of which they form part, there continue to be such other local government areas as are set out in Schedule 6 which - (a) in the case of the areas set out in Chapter 1 of Part 1 of that Schedule, shall be known as boroughs, and - (b) in the case of the areas set out in Chapter 2 of Part 1 and Part 2 of that Schedule, shall be known as towns, and in this Act a reference to a town shall include a reference to a borough.
These provisions effect the replacement of the boroughs, Towns and urban districts which existed before then. Similar reforms in the nomenclature of local authorities ( but not their functions) are effected by section 11 part 17 of the act includes provision (section 185(2)) Qualified electors of a town having a population of at least 7,500 as ascertained at the last preceding census or such other figure as the Minister may from time to time prescribe by regulations, and not having a town council, may make a proposal in accordance with paragraph (b) for the establishment of such a council and contains provisions enabling the establishment of new town councils and provisions enabling the dissolution of existing or new town councils in certain circumstances
The reference to town having a population of at least 7,500 as ascertained at the last preceding census hands much of the power relating to defining what is in fact a town over to the Central Statistics Office and their criteria are published as part of each census
A local area plan shall be made in respect of an area which —(i) is designated as a town in the most recent census of population, other than a town designated as a suburb or environs in that census, (ii) has a population in excess of 2,000, and (iii) is situated within the functional area of a planning authority which is a county council.
In short they speak of "towns with legally defined boundaries" ( ie those established by the Local Government Act 2001) and the remaining 664 as "census towns", defined by themselves since 1971 as a cluster of 50 or more occupied dwellings in which within a distance of 800 metres there is a nucleus of 30 occupied houses on both sides of the road or twenty occupied houses on one side of the road there is also a 200 metre criterion for determining whether a house is part of a census town.
In India, under most state laws, no village or settlement can be classified as a town unless its population crosses 20,000 inhabitants. On the basis of population and other issues, the state government notifies a larger community (over 10,000) as a notified area, and its administration is under the locally elected notified area committee. A settlement over 20,000 population would be classified, with a charter from the state government as a town, with a town area committee. Some laws distinguish only towns and villages from each other, but by usage, settlement with larger populations, such as those having a municipal committee or municipal corporation would be called cities. The recent Census of India classified all settlements above 5000 population (subject to some other rules) as urban areas for the sake of census. 
In the Netherlands no distinction is made between "city" and "town"; both translate as "stad".
Before 1848 there was a legal distinction between stad and non-stad parts of the country, but the word no longer has any legal significance. About 220 places got "stadsrechten" (city rights) and are still so called for historical and traditional reasons, though the word is also used for large urban areas that never got such rights. The contrastive word for a village as a smaller settlement is dorp.
Similarly to Germany, in Poland there is no official distinction between a city and a town. The word for both is miasto (as distinct from a village or wieś). Town status is conferred by administrative decree - some settlements remain villages even though they have a larger population than many smaller towns. See List of cities and towns in Poland.
See main article: Types of inhabited localities in Russia. Unlike English, the Russian language does not distinguish the terms "city" and "town"—both are translated as "Russian: город" (gorod). Traditionally, the term "city" is applied to large metropolitan areas and the term "town"—to smaller urban localities. Occasionally the term is applied to urban-type settlements as well, even though the status of those is not the same as that of a city/town proper.
Sweden cancelled the official legal term Town (in Swedish: Stad) in the year 1971. Only the word Municipality (in Swedish: Kommun. In US English approximately County) was used, making no legal difference between Stockholm and a countryside municipality. Before that there were a number of terms like "stad"/Town, "köping"/large village etc. The definition of Town (stad) was that it was given such a title. Since the 1980s some municipalities (13 out of 290), who were "stad" before 1971, again call themselves town (stad). This has no legal or administrative significance whatsoever, and the municipalities have to use the word "kommun" in laws. In other cases the seat of the municipality is called "town". There is no difference between city and town, both translates to "stad" in Swedish. The word "stad" is still in use in Sweden, referring to places which were "stad" before 1971.
There is no difference in the Ukrainian language between the notions of "town" and "city". Both these words are translated into Ukrainian as "Ukrainian: місто" (misto). The smallest population of a city of Ukraine can be about 10,000. Cities/towns should be distinguished from urban-type settlements ("Ukrainian: селище міського типу", selyshche mis'koho typu; informally "Ukrainian: містечко", mistechko), which, although urban in nature, do not have a city status. As a rule, the population of an urban-type settlement is between 2,000 and 10,000.
In England and Wales, a town traditionally was a settlement which had a charter to hold a market or fair and therefore became a "market town". Market towns were distinguished from villages in that they were the economic hub of a surrounding area, and were usually larger and had more facilities.
In modern usage the term town is used either for old market towns, or for settlements which have a Town Council, or for settlements which elsewhere would be classed a city, but which do not have the legal right to call themselves such. Any parish council can decide to describe itself as a Town Council, but this will usually only apply to the smallest "towns" (because larger towns will be larger than a single civil parish).
Not all settlements which are commonly described as towns have a "Town Council" or "Borough Council". In fact, because of many successive changes to the structure of local government, there are now few large towns which are represented by a body closely related to their historic borough council. These days, a smaller town will usually be part of a local authority which covers several towns. And where a larger town is the seat of a local authority, the authority will usually cover a much wider area than the town itself (either a large rural hinterland, or several other, smaller towns).Additionally, there are "new towns" which were created during the 20th century, such as Basildon, Redditch and Telford. Milton Keynes was designed to be a "new city" but legally it is still a town despite its size.
See main article: City status in the United Kingdom. The status of a city is reserved for places that have Letters Patent entitling them to the name, historically associated with the possession of a cathedral. Some large municipalities (such as Northampton and Bournemouth) are legally boroughs but not cities, whereas some cities are quite small - such as Ely or St David's for instance.
It appears that a city may become a town, though perhaps only through administrative error: Rochester (Kent) has been a city for centuries but, when in 1998 when the Medway district was created, a bureaucratic blunder meant that Rochester lost its official city status and is now technically a town.
It is often thought that towns with bishops' seats rank automatically as cities: however, Chelmsford remains a town despite being the seat of the diocese of Chelmsford. St. Asaph, which is the seat of the diocese of St Asaph, is another such town. In reality, the pre-qualification of having a cathedral of the established Church of England, and the formerly established Church in Wales or Church of Ireland, ceased to apply from 1888.
The word town can also be used as a general term for urban areas, including cities and in a few cases, districts within cities. In this usage, a city is a type of town - a large one, with a certain status. For example, Greater London is sometimes referred to colloquially as "London town". (The "City of London" is the historical nucleus, informally known as the "Square Mile", and is administratively separate from the rest of Greater London, while the City of Westminster is also technically a city and is also a London borough). Camden Town and Somers Town are districts of London, as New Town is a district of Edinburgh - actually the Georgian centre.
Going from the suburbs to central London is to "go into town".
A town in Scotland has no specific legal meaning and (especially in areas which were or are still Gaelic-speaking) can refer to a mere collection of buildings (e.g. a farm-town or in Scots ferm-toun), not all of which might be inhabited, or to an inhabited area of any size which is not otherwise described in terms such as city, burgh, etc. Many locations of greatly different size will be encountered with a name ending with -town, -ton, -toun etc. (or beginning with the Gaelic equivalent baile etc.).
A burgh (pronounced burruh) is the Scots' term for a town or a municipality. They were highly autonomous units of local government from at least the 12th century until their abolition in 1975 when a new regional structure of local government was introduced across the country. Usually based upon a town, they had a municipal corporation and certain rights, such as a degree of self-government and representation in the sovereign Parliament of Scotland adjourned in 1707.
The term no longer describes units of local government although various claims are made from time to time that the legislation used was not competent to change the status of the Royal Burghs described below. The status is now chiefly ceremonial but various functions have been inherited by current Councils (e.g. the application of various endowments providing for public benefit) which might only apply within the area previously served by a burgh; in consequence a burgh can still exist (if only as a defined geographical area) and might still be signed as such by the current local authority. It should be noted that the word 'burgh' is generally not used as a synonym for 'town' or 'city' in everyday speech, but is reserved mostly for government and administrative purposes.
Historically, the most important burghs were royal burghs, followed by burghs of regality and burghs of barony. Some newer settlements were only designated as police burghs from the 19th century onward, a classification which also applies to most of the older burghs.
In the United States of America, the meaning of the term town varies from state to state. In some states, a town is an incorporated municipality, that is, one with a charter received from the state, similar to a city (see incorporated town). In others, a town is unincorporated. In most places, town refers to a small incorporated municipality of less than 10,000 people, although some of these municipalities may be called "cities."
The types of municipalities in U.S. states include cities, towns, boroughs, villages, and townships, although most states do not have all five types. Many states do not use the term "town" for incorporated municipalities. In some states, like New England states, New York and Wisconsin, "town" is used in the same way that civil township is used elsewhere. In other states, such as Michigan, the term "town" has no official meaning and is simply used informally to refer to a populated place, whether incorporated or not.
In Arizona the terms "town" and "city" are largely interchangeable. A community may incorporate under either a town or a city organization with no regard to population or other restrictions according to Arizona law (see Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 9). Cities may function under slightly differing governmental systems, such as the option to organize a district system for city governments, but largely retain the same powers as towns. Arizona law also allows for the consolidation of neighboring towns and the unification of a city and a town, but makes no provision for the joining of two adjacent cities.
In California, the words "town" and "city" are synonymous by law (see Cal. Govt. Code Secs. 34500-34504). There are two types of cities in California - charter and general law. Cities organised as charter cities derive their authority from a charter that they draft and file with the state, and which, among other things, states the municipality's name as "City of (Name)" or "Town of (Name)." Government Code Sections 34500-34504 applies to cities organised as general law cities, which differ from charter cities in that they do not have charters but instead operate with the powers conferred them by the pertinent sections of the Government Code. Like charter cities, general law cities may incorporate as "City of (Name)" or "Town of (Name)." Some cities change their minds as to how they want to be called. The sign in front of the municipal offices in Colma, California, for example, reads "City of Colma", but the words engraved on the building above the front entrance when the city hall was build read "Town of Colma." There are also signs at the municipal corporation limit, some of which welcome visitors to the "City of Colma" while older, adjacent signs welcome people to the "Town of Colma." Meanwhile, the village does not exist in California, either in colloquial speech or as a municipal corporation. Instead, the word "town" is commonly used to indicate any unincorporated community that might otherwise be known as an unincorporated village. Additionally, some people may still use the word "town" as shorthand for "township", which is not an incorporated municipality but an administrative division of a county.
In Illinois, the word town has been used both to denote a subdivision of a county called a township , and also to denote a form of chartered, incorporated, or unincorporated municipality, more similar to a village, being generally governed by a president and trustees rather than a mayor. Under the current Illinois Municipal Code, an incorporated or unincorporated town may choose to incorporate as a city or as a village, but other forms of incorporation are no longer allowed.
In Nevada, a town has a form of government, but is not considered to be incorporated. It generally provides a limited range of services, such as land use planning and recreation, while leaving most services to the county. Many communities have found this "semi-incorporated" status attractive; the state has only 20 incorporated cities, and towns as large as Paradise (186,020 in 2000 Census), home of the Las Vegas Strip. Most county seats are also towns, not cities.
See main article: New England town.
In the six New England states, a town is a municipality and a more important unit than the county. In Connecticut, Rhode Island and 7 out of 14 counties in Massachusetts, in fact, counties only exist as map divisions and have no legal functions; in the other three states, counties are primarily judicial districts, with other functions primarily in New Hampshire and Vermont. In all six, towns perform functions that in most states would be county functions. The defining feature of a New England town, as opposed to a city, is that a town meeting and a board of selectmen serve as the main form of government for a town, while cities are run by a mayor and a city council. For example, Brookline, Massachusetts is a town, even though it is fairly urban, because of its form of government.
In New York, a town is similarly a division of the county, but with less importance than in New England. Of some importance is the fact that, in New York, a town provides a closer level of governance than its enclosing county, providing almost all municipal services to unincorporated areas, called hamlets, and selected services to incorporated areas, called villages. In New York, a town typically contains a number of such hamlets and villages. However, due to their independent nature, incorporated villages may exist in two towns or even two counties. Everyone in New York State who does not live in an Indian reservation or a city lives in a town and possibly in one of the town's hamlets or villages. (Some other states have similar entities called townships.) In New York, "town" is essentially short for "township."
The Hawaiian Island of Oahu has various municipalities that may be referred to as towns. However, the entire island is lumped as a single incorporated "city", the City and County of Honolulu. The towns on Oahu are merely unincorporated census designated places.
In Pennsylvania, there is only one municipality which is incorporated as a "town": Bloomsburg. Most of the rest of the state is incorporated as townships (there are also boroughs and cities), which function in much the same way as the towns of New York or New England, although they may have different forms of government.
In Virginia, a town is an incorporated municipality similar to a city (though with a smaller required minimum population), but while cities are by Virginia law independent of counties, towns are contained within a county.
According to the 2006 United States Census Hempstead, New York (western most Town in Long Island, New York) is the largest town in the United States. The town of Hempstead has a population of over 760,000 people, making it larger than San Francisco, Boston, or Seattle.
In Vietnam, a town is a part of a province. It has the same level as a district and a district level city.