How do I know if a place is a city or a town or a village?
In British English we can distinguish between a city, a town, a village or a hamlet using a historical perspective.
Using this generally held historical perspective we can see the following distinctions between cities, towns, villages and hamlets:
has a cathedral or a university or both *(see below for modern day definitions)
has a market
doesn’t have a cathedral or a market but it will have a church
is very small with only a handful of houses and usually doesn’t have any shops or other services. It would be unusual for it to have a church, but occasionally they do
A historical explanation for these distinctions can be found >>>> here
* In fact the definition of a city has changed over the years.
In 1907 the government decided that for a town to have city status it should have a population of over 300,000 and/or have a significant role in its geographical region. This has been adjusted a number of times over the last century, towns must apply for city status, they are not awarded it automatically.
This means that some places can have a cathedral but not be a city:
St.James church in Bury St.Edmunds became a cathedral in 1914 when the diocese of St Wednesbury and Ipswich was created. Bury doesn’t comply with the new criteria for city status and, to my knowledge, has never applied for such status.
After the industrial revolution the population of Britain has grown and many industrial towns became larger, and more important, than some historical cities:
An example of an English town that has been awarded city status following the new criteria is Stoke-on-Trent, which does not have a cathedral. It was deemed to be a significantly important town for its role as the centre of the pottery industry in the area. It officially became a city in 1925.
- there are only a few Cities; cities are usually very big
- more towns ; towns are smaller
- even more villages; villages are even smaller. There are some exceptions.
St. Davids in Wales is a city because it has a cathedral but it only has a population of around 2,000 (2001). There are many villages that are bigger.
Other countries have also developed a system where a region has a city which is the administrative headquarters for the region. Sub regional areas have towns that administer this smaller area.
You will find additional interesting information in the comments section below
See the comments about the British/European situation compared with the use of City and Town in the USA.