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A general officer is an Armed Forces officer of 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 just called general.

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. 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 a "general officer".

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 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.

Note that a Lieutenant General outranks a Major General, although a (field) Lieutenant is outranked by a Major.

French (Revolutionary) system

Army General
Corps General
Divisional General
Brigade General

Other variations

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

  • Adjutant General
  • Commandant-General
  • Inspector General
  • Captain General
  • General of the Army (not to be confused with the title Army General)
  • General of the Air Force (USA only)
  • General of the Armies of the United States (of America), a title created for General John J. Pershing, and subsequently granted posthumously to George Washington.
  • Admiral General (or General Admiral) (German Navy)
  • Air General, Aviation General, or General of the Air (Uruguayan & Chilean Air Forces; roughly equivalent to Air Chief Marshal and Air Vice-Marshal respectively)
  • Wing General and Group General (Mexican Air Force; roughly equivalent to Air Commodore and Acting Air Commodore respectively)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel General (A Serb rank immediately inferior to Colonel General, and roughly equivalent to Commonwealth/US Major General)
  • Director General (a common admistrative term sometimes used as an appointment in military services)
  • Director General of National Defence (most senior rank in the Mexican Armed Forces)
  • Controller General (general officer rank in the French National Police)
  • Prefect General (the most senior rank of the Argentine Naval Prefecture)
  • Master-General of Ordnance

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".

General ranks by Micronation