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Commissioned officers
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal or
Field marshal
Marshal of
the air force
Admiral General Air chief marshal
Vice admiral Lieutenant general Air marshal
Rear admiral Major general Air vice-marshal
Commodore Brigadier or
Brigadier general
Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant or
First lieutenant
Flying officer
Ensign Second
Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Officer cadet
Enlisted grades
Warrant officer or
Chief petty officer
Warrant officer or
Sergeant major
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

A lieutenant (abbreviated Lt., LT, LTA, Lieut. and LEUT.) is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces, fire service, or law enforcement.

The meaning of lieutenant differs in different military formations (see comparative military ranks), but is often subdivided into senior (first lieutenant) and junior (second lieutenant) ranks. In navies it is often equivalent to the army rank of captain; it may also indicate a particular post rather than a rank. The rank is also used in fire services, emergency medical services, security services and police forces.

Lieutenant may also appear as part of a title used in various other organizations with a codified command structure. It often designates someone who is "second-in-command," and as such, may precede the name of the rank directly above it. For example, a "lieutenant master" is likely to be second-in-command to the "master" in an organization using both ranks.

Political uses include lieutenant governor in various governments, and Quebec lieutenant in Canadian politics. In the United Kingdom, a lord lieutenant is the sovereign's representative in a county or lieutenancy area, while a deputy lieutenant is one of the lord lieutenant's deputies.


The word lieutenant derives from French; the lieu meaning "place" as in a position (cf. in lieu of); and tenant meaning "holding" as in "holding a position"; thus a "lieutenant" is somebody who holds a superior's position in his or her absence (compare the Latin locum tenens). Similar words in other languages include the Arabic mulāzim (Arabic: ملازم‎‎), meaning "holding a place", and the Hebrew word segen (Hebrew: סגן‎), meaning "deputy" or "second to".

In the nineteenth century, British writers who considered this word either an imposition on the English language, or difficult for common soldiers and sailors, argued for it to be replaced by the calque "steadholder". However, their efforts failed, and the French word is still used, along with its many variations, (e.g. lieutenant colonel, lieutenant general, lieutenant commander, flight lieutenant, second lieutenant and many non-English language examples), in both the Old and the New World.[citation needed]


Pronunciation of lieutenant is generally split between the forms Listeni/lɛfˈtɛnənt/ lef-TEN-ənt and Listeni/lˈtɛnənt/ lew-TEN-ənt, with the former generally associated with the armies of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, and the latter generally associated with anyone from the United States.[1] The early history of the pronunciation is unclear; Middle English spellings suggest that the /luː-/ and /lɛf-/ pronunciations may have existed even then.[2] The rare Old French variant spelling luef for Modern French lieu ('place') supports the suggestion that a final [w] of the Old French word was in certain environments perceived as an [f].[2]

In Royal Naval tradition—and other English-speaking navies outside the United States—a reduced pronunciation Listeni/ləˈtɛnənt/ is used. This is not recognized as current by the OED.

Army ranks

Conventionally, armies and other services or branches which use army-style rank titles have two grades of lieutenant, but a few also use a third, more junior, rank.

Historically the "lieutenant" was the deputy to a "captain", and as the rank structure of armies began to formalise, this came to mean that a captain commanded a company and had several lieutenants, each commanding a platoon. Where more junior officers were employed as deputies to the lieutenant, they went by many names, including second lieutenant, sub-lieutenant, ensign and cornet. Some parts of the British Army, including the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and fusilier regiments, used first lieutenant as well as second lieutenant until the end of the 19th century, and some British Army regiments still preserve cornet as an official alternative to second lieutenant.

Lieutenant/first lieutenant

The senior grade of lieutenant is known as first lieutenant in the United States, and as lieutenant in the United Kingdom and the rest of the English-speaking world. In countries which do not speak English, the rank title usually translates as "lieutenant", but may also translate as "first lieutenant" or "senior lieutenant". The Israel Defense Forces rank segen (סגן) literally translates as "deputy", which is equivalent to a lieutenant.

There is great variation in the insignia used worldwide. In most English-speaking and Arabic-speaking countries, as well as a number of European and South American nations, full lieutenants (and equivalents) usually wear two stars (pips) and second lieutenants (and equivalents) one. An example of an exception is the United States, whose armed forces distinguish their lieutenant ranks with one silver bar for first lieutenant and one gold (brass) bar for second lieutenant.

Australian-Army-LT-Shoulder.png Bd.jpg Cdn-Army-Lt(OF-1A)-2014.svg GAF army senior lieutenant.jpg 221-Oberleutnant.png Army-GRE-OF-01a.svg Lieutenant of the Indian Army.svg Sotvan 1.png IE-Army-OF1a.png IDF segen.svg Rank insignia of tenete of the Army of Italy (1973).svg Porucnik-arm-shoulder.png Mexican Military Teniente.gif Army-POL-OF-01a.svg OF-1(B) Pakistan Army.svg 10.RSA-1LT.svg SWE-Löjtnant.svg RO-Army-OF1a.png RAF A F1FstLt 2010.png UK Army OF1b-2.png Army-USA-OF-01a.svg US Army O2 shoulderboard rotated.svg
Australia Bangladesh Canada Georgia Germany Greece India Iran Ireland Israel Italy Macedonia Mexico Poland Pakistan Saudi Arabia Sweden Romania Russia UK US US (1959-2014)

Second lieutenant

Second lieutenant is usually the most junior grade of commissioned officer. In most cases, newly commissioned officers do not remain at the rank for long before being promoted, and both university graduates and officers commissioned from the ranks may skip the rank altogether.[citation needed] In non-English-speaking countries, the equivalent rank title may translate as "second lieutenant", "lieutenant", "sub-lieutenant" or "junior lieutenant". Non-English terms include alferes (Portuguese Army and Air Force), alférez (Spanish Army and Air Force), fänrik (Swedish Armed Forces), ensign, Leutnant (German Army), letnan (Indonesian National Armed Forces), poručík (Czech Army), segen mishne (Israel Defense Forces) or løjtnant (Danish Army).

Australian-Army-2LT-Shoulder.png 01.2lt Bd.jpg Cdn-Army-2Lt(OF-1)-2014.svg GAF army lieutenant.jpg 211-Leutnant.png Army-GRE-OF-01b.svg Sotvan 2.png IE-Army-OF1b.png IDF segen mishne.svg Rank insignia of sottotenete of the Army of Italy (1973).svg Potporucnik-arm-shoulder.png Mexican Military Subteniente.gif Army-POL-OF-01b.svg OF-1(A) Pakistan Army.svg 09.RSA-2LT.svg SWE-Fänrik.svg RO-Army-OF1b.png RAF A F1-2Lt 2010.png UK Army OF1a-2.png Army-USA-OF-01b.svg US Army O1 shoulderboard rotated.svg
Australia Bangladesh Canada Georgia Germany Greece Iran Ireland Israel Italy Macedonia Mexico Poland Pakistan Saudi Arabia Sweden Romania Russia UK US US (1959-2014)

Third lieutenant

Rank insignia of младши лейтенант of the Bulgarian Army.png GAF army junior lieutenant.jpg Sotvan 3.png RAF A F1-3SubLt 2010.png
Bulgaria Georgia Iran Russia


The Soviet Union used the three ranks senior lieutenant (старший лейтенант; starshy leytenant - OF1a), lieutenant (лейтенант; leytenant - OF1b), and junior lieutenant (мла́дший лейтенант; mladshy leytenant - OF1c). The armed forces of the Russian Federation inherited this rank structure.

If military personnel serve in a guards formation, or on a guards warship, the rank designation will be preceded by the word "guards" (e.g. "guards junior lieutenant"). For civil or military personnel in the medical or judicial professions, the military rank will be preceded by the words "legal" or "medical service".

Eastern European ranks

A few non-English-speaking militaries maintain a lower rank, frequently translated as "third lieutenant" OF1c. The rank title may actually translate as "second lieutenant", "junior lieutenant", "sub-lieutenant" or "ensign". Warsaw Pact countries standardized their ranking systems on the Soviet system. Some of the former Soviet and Warsaw Pact nations have now discarded the third rank while many retain it like Bulgaria. Other nations use the term "senior poruchik" or "nadporuchik" (OF1a), "poruchik" (OF1b), and "junior poruchik" or "podporuchik" (OF1c).

American ranks

In March 1813 the US Army created the rank of third lieutenant. The rank was used as the entry level officer rank for the Ordnance Department and the Corps of Artillery until March 1821.[3]

Throughout the 19th century and until as late as World War II[4] the United States Army sometimes referred to brevet second lieutenants as "third lieutenants". These were typically newly commissioned officers for which no authorized second lieutenant position existed.

Additionally, the Confederate States Army also used "third lieutenant", typically as the lowest ranking commissioned officer in an infantry company.

Naval rank

Naval officer ranks
Flag officers:

Admiral of the fleetFleet admiralGrand admiral
AdmiralGeneral admiral
Vice admiralSquadron vice-admiralLieutenant admiral
Rear admiralCounter admiralDivisional admiral
CommodoreFlotilla admiral

Senior officers:

CaptainCaptain at seaCaptain of sea and warShip-of-the-line captain
CommanderFrigate captain
Lieutenant commanderCorvette captain

Junior officers:

Captain lieutenantLieutenantShip-of-the-line lieutenant
Frigate lieutenantLieutenant (junior grade)Sub-lieutenant
Corvette lieutenantEnsign

Lieutenant commander

Lieutenants were commonly put in command of smaller vessels not warranting a commander or captain: such a lieutenant was called a "lieutenant commanding" or "lieutenant commandant" in the United States Navy, and a "lieutenant in command" or "lieutenant and commander" in the Royal Navy. The USN settled on "lieutenant commander" in 1862, and made it a distinct rank; the Royal Navy followed suit in March 1914. The insignia of an additional half-stripe between the two full stripes of a lieutenant was introduced in 1877 for a Royal Navy lieutenant of 8 years seniority, and used for lieutenant commanders upon introduction of their rank.[5]

GR-Navy-OF3.svg POR-Navy-OF3.svg US Navy O4 insignia.svg
Greece Portugal US


During the early days of the naval rank, a lieutenant might be very junior indeed, or might be on the cusp of promotion to captain; by modern standards he might rank with any army rank between second lieutenant and lieutenant colonel. As the rank structure of navies stabilised, and the ranks of commander, lieutenant commander and sub-lieutenant were introduced, the naval lieutenant came to rank with an army captain (NATO OF-2 or US O-3).

The insignia of a lieutenant in many navies, including the Royal Navy,[6] consists of two medium gold braid stripes (top stripe with loop) on a navy blue or black background. This pattern was copied by the United States Navy and various Air Forces for their equivalent ranks grades, except that the loop is removed (see flight lieutenant).

French Navy-Rama NG-OF1b.svg GR-Navy-OF2.svg IN Lieutenant.png POR-Navy-primeiro-tenente.png US Navy O3 insignia.svg
France Greece India Portugal US

"First lieutenant" in naval use

The first lieutenant in the Royal Navy and other Commonwealth navies, is a post or appointment, rather than a rank. Historically the lieutenants in a ship were ranked in accordance with seniority, with the most senior being termed the "first lieutenant" and acting as the second-in-command. Although lieutenants are no longer numbered by seniority, the post of "first lieutenant" remains. In minor war vessels, destroyers and frigates the first lieutenant (either a lieutenant or lieutenant-commander) is second in command, executive officer (XO) and head of the executive branch; in larger ships where a commander of the warfare specialisation is appointed as the executive officer, a first lieutenant (normally a lieutenant-commander) is appointed as his deputy. The post of first lieutenant in a shore establishment carries a similar responsibility to the first lieutenant of a capital ship.

In the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard the billet of first lieutenant describes the officer in charge of the deck department or division, depending upon the size of the ship. In smaller ships with only a single deck division, the billet is typically filled by an ensign while in larger ships with a deck department, consisting of multiple subordinate divisions, the billet may be filled by a lieutenant commander. On submarines and smaller Coast Guard cutters the billet of first lieutenant may be filled by a petty officer.


In the Royal Navy the commissioned rank of mate was created in 1840, and was renamed sub-lieutenant in 1860. In the US Navy the rank was called master until 1883, when it was renamed lieutenant, junior grade. In many navies, a sub-lieutenant is a naval commissioned or subordinate officer, ranking below a lieutenant, but in Brazil it is the highest non-commissioned rank, and in Spain it is the second highest non-commissioned rank. In Portugal, sub-lieutenant is the rank of a junior naval officer graduated from a civil university or promoted from a NCO rank, while the equivalent rank of an officer graduated in the naval academy is designated midshipman.

Generic-Navy-O2.svg IN Sublieutenant.png POR-Navy-guarda-marinha.png Generic-Navy-O1.svg
Canada India Portugal UK

Marine rank

The United States Marine Corps and British Royal Marines[7] both use army ranks, while many former Eastern-Bloc marine forces retain the naval form[clarification needed]. Before 1999 the Royal Marines enjoyed the same rank structure as the army, but at a grade higher; thus a Royal Marine captain ranked with and was paid the same as a British Army major. This historical remnant caused increasing confusion in multi-national operations and was abolished.

Air force rank

While some air forces use the army rank system, the British Royal Air Force and many other Commonwealth air forces use another rank system in which flight lieutenant ranks with an army captain and naval lieutenant, a flying officer ranks with an army lieutenant, and a pilot officer with an army second lieutenant.

NATO OF-2 / US O-3
Thai air O2.png UK-Air-OF2.svg RAAF O3 rank.png Flight Lieutenant of IAF.png

NATO OF-1a / US O-2
CDN-Air Force-Lieutenant (OF1A)-2015.svg Luftwaffe-221-Oberleutnant.png Teniente de la FAM.gif Porucznik Lotnicze.svg Flying Officer of IAF.png RO-Airforce-OF-2bs.PNG Tte-ea.svg SWE-Airforce-löjtnant.png US Air Force O2 shoulderboard.svg
India Romania

NATO OF-1b / US O-1
CDN-Air Force-2nd Lieutenant (OF1B)-2015.svg Luftwaffe-211-Leutnant.png Subteniente FAM.gif Pilot Officer of IAF.png Podporucznik Lotnicze.svg RO-Airforce-OF-1s.PNG Alf-ea.svg SWE-Airforce-fänrik.png US Air Force O1 shoulderboard.svg
India Poland

In the US Air Force, the Third Lieutenant Program refers specifically to a training program at active duty air force bases for cadets of the Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC the summer before their fourth and final year before graduation and commissioning. A single silver or subdued pip is used to designate this rank.

The Royal Air Force also has an acting pilot officer designation, the most junior commissioned rank in the British armed forces. It is functionally equivalent to third lieutenant (OF-1c / O-0).

Police rank

United States Police Forces

The rank of police lieutenant is used in most police forces in the United States. It is normally roughly equivalent to the British police inspector. Lieutenants are usually more of an administrative rank and assist precinct commanders (who normally hold the rank of Captain but may be a senior Lieutenant in small police forces). Lieutenants either command a watch (8-hour "shift") of a precinct or head up major investigative commands (like a Robbery-Homicide squad). Some senior Lieutenants act as an assistant to a precinct commander.

The title of Police Lieutenant is usually called a Lieutenant I and has a single gold bar as their insignia (like that of an Army or Marine Corps Second Lieutenant). A senior Police Lieutenant is usually called a Lieutenant II and has a single silver bar as their insignia (like that of an Army or Marine Corps First Lieutenant).

British and Commonwealth Police Forces

The rank of Lieutenant was formerly used in areas outside of the Metropolitan Police. The adoption of standardized ranks across the United Kingdom has eliminated its use.

A number of city and burgh police forces in Scotland used the rank of lieutenant (and detective lieutenant) between Inspector and Superintendent from 1812 to 1948. It was replaced by the rank of chief inspector.[8]

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (founded 1871) had the rank of lieutenant between staff sergeant and inspector until 1997.

In Australia, Queensland's first police force (founded 1864) had second lieutenants and lieutenants between the ranks of sergeant and inspector-general.

France and the French Union

The first French Lieutenant of Police, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, was appointed in Paris by Louis XIV on 15 March 1667 to command a reformed police force. He was later elevated to Lieutenant-General of Police. There are examples in other countries.

Assistant SP IPS 2.png PL policja 1995 kom.svg Inspector.png US-O1 insignia.svg US-O2 insignia.svg Russian police lieutenant.png
of Police
de poliţie
United States
United States

Fire services rank

In the US the junior officer grade of the fire service is the lieutenant. The most common insignia for fire department lieutenants are collar and cover devices commonly called bugles (though they are really representative of 18th century speaking trumpets); a lieutenant usually displays a single silver bugle, though some variations exist. In addition to the bugle, lieutenants often display a single silver sleeve band and wear a helmet of a different color from those worn by their subordinates, most usually limited to a white helmet shield on a black or red helmet (jurisdictionally dependant). Many cities and towns, however, employ a wide variety of other ranks and insignia. Lieutenants are typically responsible for an individual engine, hose tender, rescue squad, fire boat or ladder company and its crew.

Other uses

The British monarch's representatives in the counties of the United Kingdom are called Lord Lieutenants. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland performed the function of viceroy in Ireland. In French history, "lieutenant du roi" was a title borne by the officer sent with military powers to represent the king in certain provinces. It is in the sense of a deputy that it has entered into the titles of more senior officers, lieutenant general and lieutenant colonel. In Canada the representative of the Canadian monarch in each of the Canadian provinces is called the Lieutenant Governor. The Lieutenant Governor exercises all the royal prerogative powers that the monarch holds.[citation needed]

The Salvation Army also uses lieutenant to denote first time officers, or clergymen/women.

Leaders, or officers of the Boys' Brigade, particularly in the United Kingdom, are ranked as lieutenants after having completed their formal training, before which they are ranked as warrant officers. Officers serving in staff or command posts are awarded the "brevet" rank of captain, these officers then revert to their lieutenancy after having completed their tour of duty.

See also


  1. American Heritage Dictionary, s.v. "Lieutenant".
  2. 2.0 2.1 Oxford English Dictionary.
  3. p.970 Tucker, Spencer C. The Encyclopedia Of the War Of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History [3 volumes] ABC-CLIO, 25 Apr 2012
  4. "Full Text Citations For Award of The Distinguished Service Cross". Retrieved 27 July 2009. The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Baltazar Adona, Third Lieutenant, U.S. Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against a hostile force in the Philippine Islands. Third Lieutenant Adona distinguished himself by intrepid actions from 10 to 16 December 1941 while serving with the Philippine Scouts<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Officer Ranks in the Royal Navy – Lieutenant Commander". Royal Naval Museum. Retrieved 2008-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Uniforms and Badges of Rank – Royal Navy website". Retrieved 2008-10-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "RM Officers & Other Ranks Badges of Rank – Royal Navy website". Retrieved 2008-10-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Report of the Committee of Inquiry on the Police, 1978

External links