Common anglophone military ranks
Navies Armies Air forces
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal /
field marshal
Marshal of
the Air Force
Admiral General Air marshal
Commodore Brigadier Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major /
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant Flying officer
Ensign 2nd lieutenant Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Officer cadet
Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Warrant officer Sergeant major Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

Colonel /ˈkɜrnəl/, abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures. A colonel is typically in charge of a regiment in an army.

"Colonel" is usually the highest or second-highest field rank, and is below the general ranks.


History and origins

As the office of colonel became an established practice, the colonel became the senior captain in a group of companies which were all sworn to observe his personal authority — to be ruled or regimented by him. This regiment, or governance, was to some extent embodied in a contract and set of written rules, also referred to as the colonel's regiment or standing regulation(s). By extension, the group of companies subject to a colonel's regiment (in the foregoing sense) came to be referred to as his regiment (in the modern sense) as well.

With the shift from primarily mercenary to primarily national armies in the course of the seventeenth century, a colonel (normally a member of the aristocracy) became a holder (German Inhaber) or proprietor of a military contract with a sovereign. The colonel purchased the regimental contract — the right to hold the regiment — from the previous holder of that right or directly from the sovereign when a new regiment was formed or an incumbent was killed.

In French usage of this period the senior colonel in the army or in a field force — the senior military contractor — was the colonel general and, in the absence of the sovereign or his designate, the colonel general might serve as the commander of a force. The position, however, was primarily contractual and it became progressively more of a functionless sinecure. (The head of a single regiment or demi brigade would be called a mestre de camp or, after the Revolution, a chef de brigade.)

By the late 19th century, colonel was a professional military rank though still held typically by an officer in command of a regiment or equivalent unit. Along with other ranks it has become progressively more a matter of ranked duties, qualifications and experience and of corresponding titles and pay scale than of functional office in a particular organization.

As European military influence has expanded throughout the world, the rank of colonel became adopted by nearly every nation in existence under a variety of names.

With the rise of communism, some of the large Communist militaries saw fit to expand the colonel rank into several grades, resulting in the unique senior colonel rank which was found and is still used in such nations as China and North Korea.

In modern English, the word colonel is pronounced similarly to kernel (of grain) as a result of entering the language from Middle French in two competing forms, dissimilated coronel and colonel. The more conservative spelling colonel was favored in written use and eventually became the standard spelling even as it lost out in pronunciation to coronel.


In many modern armies the 'regiment' has more importance as a ceremonial unit or a focus of common loyalty amongst its members, rather than as an actual battle formation. Troops tend to be deployed in 'Battalions' (commanded by a lieutenant colonel) as a more convenient size of military unit, and as such colonels have tended to have a higher profile in specialist and command roles rather than as actual commanders of regiments. However, in Commonwealth armies the position of the colonel as the figurehead of a Regiment is maintained in the honorary role of colonel-in-chief, usually held by members of the Royal Family,[1] the nobility, or retired senior military officers. The colonel-in-chief wears a colonel's uniform and encourages the members of the regiment, but takes no active part in the actual command structure or in any operational duties.[2]

Colonel and equivalent ranks by country

Colonel in individual military forces

The following articles deal with the rank of colonel as it is used in various national militaries.

Central and Eastern European equivalent ranks

Since the 16th century, the rank of regimental commander was adopted by several Central and Eastern European armies, most notably the forces of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossacks and then Muscovy. In countries with slavic languages, the exact name of the rank maintains a variety of spellings, all descendant from the Old Slavonic[disambiguation needed ] word plk or polk meaning unit of standing army (see The Tale of Igor's Campaign), and include the following:

The Hungarian equivalent ezredes literally means "leader of a thousand" (i.e. of a regiment)

Western European equivalent ranks

Other national equivalent ranks

  •  Thailand Nai Phan (TH: นายพัน) Chief of 1,000
    • Phan Ek (TH: พันเอก) First of 1,000: Colonel
    • Phan Tho (TH: พันโท) Second of 1,000: Lieutenant colonel


Unless stated otherwise, the insignia shown are those of army colonels.

Colonel as highest ranking officer

Some military forces have a colonel as their highest ranking officer, with no 'general' ranks, and no superior authority (except, perhaps, the head of state as a titular commander-in-chief) other than the respective national government. Examples include the following (arranged alphabetically by country name):

  • Antigua and Barbuda (170 personnel)
  • Benin (4,500 personnel)
  • Costa Rica (about 8,000 personnel)
  • Gambia (1,900 personnel)
  • Iceland (100 personnel, employed only for peacekeeping duties)
  • Libya ( Commands all the Armed Forces - Muammar Gaddafi (Until 2011)
  • Luxembourg (has only one branch, the army, with a total of 1,500 personnel)
  • Monaco (two branches, with a total of about 250 personnel)
  • Niger (8,000 personnel)
  • Suriname (1,800 personnel)
  • Vatican City State (135 personnel - the Swiss Guard)
Rank insignia for a colonel in several nations which have no higher military rank.
 Iceland  Monaco  Vatican City
Colonel CCP Colonel CSP

Other uses of colonel ranks

See also




  1. ^ See this list of colonel-in-chief appointments held by HRH The Prince of Wales.
  2. ^ A webpage by a Scottish regiment concerning their Colonel-in-Chief.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • colonel — colonel, elle [ kɔlɔnɛl ] n. • av. 1544 colonnel; it. colonnello, de colonna « colonne d armée » 1 ♦ N. Officier, officière supérieur(e) qui commande un régiment, ou une formation, un service de même importance (⇒fam. 2. colon). Colonel d… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • colonel — COLONEL. sub. mascul. Celui qui commande un Régiment de Cavalerie, d Infanterie, ou de Dragons. Colonel du Régiment des Gardes. Colonel des Suisses. Lieutenant Colonel. f♛/b] On appelle Colonel Général de la Cavalerie, Celui qui commande toute la …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • colonel — COLONEL. s. m. Celuy qui commande un regiment de cavalerie ou d infanterie. Le Roy l a fait Colonel d un tel regiment. Colonel du regiment des gardes. Colonel des Suisses. Lieutenant Colonel, celuy qui commande la compagnie du Colonel & toutes… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Colonel — Colo nel, n. [F. colonel, It. colonello, prop., the chief or commander of a column, fr. colonna column, L. columna. See {Column}.] (Mil.) The chief officer of a regiment; an officer ranking next above a lieutenant colonel and next below a… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • colonel — [kʉr′nəl] n. [earlier coronel < Fr colonel, coronel ( r by dissimilation) < It colonello < colonna, (military) column < L columna,COLUMN; Fr & E sp. modified after L & It, but older pronun. kept in E] 1. a military officer ranking… …   English World dictionary

  • Colonel — bezeichnet: den militärischen Rang eines Oberst (aus dem Englischen und Französischen) im französischen Heer bis zur Revolution 1789 die Bezeichnung für den Regimentskommandeur, meist ein Prinz oder eine andere hohe Person als Colonel Major den… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • colonel — ► NOUN ▪ a rank of officer in the army and in the US air force, above a lieutenant colonel and below a brigadier or brigadier general. DERIVATIVES colonelcy noun (pl. colonelcies) . ORIGIN from Italian colonnello column of soldiers …   English terms dictionary

  • Colonel — (fr.), 1) so v. w. Oberst; daher C. géneral, bei der französischen Armee Inspecteur einer Waffengattung, meist der Cavallerie; C. lieutenant, Obristlieutenant; 2) Schriftgattung, s. Schrift …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Colonel — (franz., spr. nell), Oberst; C. Lieutenant, bis zur französischen Revolution Kommandeur eines Regiments, dessen Chef, eine hochgestellte Person, das Regiment nicht selbst führte; Lieutenant C., Oberstleutnant; C. Général, ehemals Generaloberst… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Colonel — (frz., spr. néll; engl., spr. körn l), Oberst; auch eine Schriftgattung (s. Kolonel) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Colonel — Colonel, frz., Oberst. – Schriftgattung, um einen Grad größer als Nonpareille, heißt in England Minion, in Frankreich Mignonne …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

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