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Lieutenant is an official rank in uniformed services. It is normally abbreviated Lt. or Lieut. In the UK, it is reserved for the military services, and in certain ceremonial positions of considerable age; in many other countries, including the USA, it is also used in the police.

  • Its pronunciation can be confused.
    • In Britain, the normal pronunciation is 'left [or lift]-TEN-ent' (IPA: /ˈlɪ (or ɛ)ft ɛn ɛnt/)
    • In American English, it is invariably 'loo-TEN-ent' (IPA: /ˈluː tɛn ɛnt/). "In England this pronunciation ... is almost unknown" (OED).

It is not known how the UK pronunciation, which has been recorded since Middle English, evolved. The root is from the French lieu (place) tenant (holding), and in French this is pronounced 'lyer tenant' {{IPA| ljø tɛnɑ̃ }. This is nearer the American convention but not identical with it.

  • Its meaning is the French: 'holding [the] place [of]'. (Similar phrases - etymologically identical can be found in other European languages, such as locum tenens in Latin, luogotenente in Italian, teniente in Spanish.) This is the job of a second-in-command who is responsible in the principal's absence, or when s/he is off duty. In the military services, the Lieutenant is usually the subordinate to a captain. One of the oddities of the separate development of the services is that a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy is a more senior rank: the naval Lieutenant (and the Air Force Flight Lieutenant) is the equal of an army captain. The naval equivalent of an army Lieutenant is a sub-lieutenant. (The different status may reflect the fact that an army captain typically commands a company, of about 120 men, and a Lieutenant one of the platoons, of around 30, within the company; whereas the naval Lieutenant on watch-keeping duty may be in charge of an entire vessel, of up to 2000 crew.)
  • Note that in ships, there is a position known as the First Lieutenant. This is the job immediately after that of the Captain, or commander, of the vessel: a First Lieutenant normally is in charge of day-to-day activities, such as maintenance and good order. (In the United States navy, where the title of the more senior grade of lieutenant is officially First Lieutenant, this post is termed Executive officer. In the Merchant Navy, the various Lieutenants are called 'mates': First Mate, Second Mate and so on.) The post of First Lieutenant is not necessarily occupied by someone with the rank of lieutenant: in large ships, it may be held by a Lieutenant Commander, or even a full Commander; in the smallest vessels, the First Lieutenant may be a non-commissioned officer.

Many ranks are defined by their subordinate or second-in-command status (cf the third meaning given for vice): *Lieutenant-colonel in the army is the rank immediately below that of Colonel, as in the navy Lieutenant Commander is the rank immediately below that of Commander. A Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army currently characteristically commands a battalion, or a regiment in specialist arms. A Colonel typically has a staff job.

  • A Lieutenant General is either a deputy, in general matters, of the King (now mostly an historical usage in the UK); or a subordinate General in the Army.
  • A Lieutenant Governor is a subordinate Governor. This too was historically 'the representative of the King [~ central government] in a particular area'; it is now, in the UK, a largely ceremonial post. In other countries, it may be because he is the second-in-command of the Governor; he is the actual working Governor, where Governor is a ceremonial title; or because he is the Governor of a region subordinate to the area governed by a full Governor; in Canada, for example, the Lieutenant-Governor of a province is the Queen's representative in that province, and acts under the Governor General, who is the monarch's representative in the country as a whole.
You may also want to see AWE's article on ensign, the former title of the Army officers now called Second Lieutenant in the UK.