A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given.
The term General is used in two ways: as the generic title for all grades of general officer; and as a specific rank. Since the late twentieth century, the rank of General is usually the highest active rank of a military not at war.
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 below them are company-grade officers. All officers who commanded more than a single regiment came to be known as "general officers". The word "general" is used in its ordinary sense in English (and other languages) as relating to larger, general, military units, rather than smaller units in particular.
There are two common systems of general ranks.
Variations of one form, the old European system, were once used throughout Europe. It is used in the United Kingdom (although it did not originate there), from which it eventually spread to the Commonwealth and the United States of America. The General Officer ranks are named by prefixing General, as an adjective, with field officer ranks, although in some countries the highest general officers are titled Field Marshal or Marshal.
The other is derived from the French Revolution, where generals' ranks are named according to the unit they (theoretically) command.
Old European system
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.)
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