General

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A general officer is an officer of very high military rank. The term or equivalent is used by nearly every country in the world. General can be used as a generic term for all grades of general officer, or it can specifically refer to a single rank that is simply called general.

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All general officer ranks

The various grades of general officer are at the top of the rank structure; lower-ranking officers are known as field officers or field-grade officers, and even lower-ranking officers are known as company-grade officers. The General Officer ranks came about by adding General as an adjective to existing names of ranks, although in some countries the highest general officers are titled Field Marshal or Marshal. All officers who commanded more than a single regiment (the most significant level of unit) came to be known as "general officers".

Common systems

There are two common systems of using general ranks.

One form, the old European system, is used in the United Kingdom from which it eventually spread to the Commonwealth and the United States of America. The system is not British in origin, and variations of this system were once used throughout Europe.

The other is derived from the French Revolution, where generals' ranks are named according to the unit they (theoretically) command.

Old European system

Field Marshal or Field Marshal General
Colonel General
General or Captain General
Lieutenant General
Sergeant Major General or Major General
Brigadier (General)

The system used either a brigadier general rank, or a colonel general rank (i.e. exclude one of the italicised ranks.)

The rank of field marshal was used by some countries as the highest rank, while in other countries it was used as a divisional or brigade rank. Many countries (notably pre-revolutionary France and eventually much of Latin America) actually used two brigade command ranks, which is why some countries now use two stars as their brigade general insignia. (Mexico and Argentina still use two brigade command ranks.)

In some nations (particularly in the Commonwealth), the equivalent to Brigadier General is Brigadier, which is not always considered by these armies to be a general officer rank, although it is always treated as equivalent to the rank of Brigadier General for comparative purposes.

Note that a Lieutenant General outranks a Major General, although a (field) Lieutenant is outranked by a Major. This is because Major General is an abbreviation for Sergeant Major General, and a Lieutenant outranks a Sergeant Major.

French (Revolutionary) system

Marshal
Army General
Corps General
Divisional General
Brigade General

More information about this system can be found on the page: Général.

Other variations

Other nomenclatures for general officers include the titles and/or ranks:

The specific General rank

In the Old European system, a General, without prefix or suffix (and sometimes referred to informally as a "full general"), is usually the most senior type of general, above Lieutenant General and directly below Field Marshal. Usually it is the most senior peace-time rank, with more senior ranks (for example, Field Marshal) being used only in wartime, or as honorary titles.

In some armies, however, the rank of Captain General, General of the Army, Army General or Colonel General occupied or occupies this position. Depending on circumstances and the army in question, these ranks may be considered to be equivalent to a full General or to a Field Marshal.

The rank of General came about as a "Captain-General", the captain of an army in general (i.e., the whole army). The rank of Captain-General began appearing around the time of the organization of professional armies in the 17th century. In most countries "Captain-General" contracted to just "General".

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.
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