AskDefine | Define companies

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Plural of company


  1. third person singular of company

Extensive Definition

Generally, a company is a form of business organization. The precise definition varies.
In the United States, a company is "a corporation—or, less commonly, an association, partnership, or union—that carries on a commercial or industrial enterprise." Generally, a company may be a "corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, trust, fund, or organized group of persons, whether incorporated or not, and (in an official capacity) any receiver, trustee in bankruptcy, or similar official, or liquidating agent, for any of the foregoing."


According to one source, "it may be formed by Act of Parliament, by Royal Charter, or by registration under company law (referred to as a limited liability or joint-stock company)."
In North America, two of the earliest companies were The London Company (also called the Charter of the Virginia Company of London)—an English joint stock company established by royal charter by James I of England on April 10, 1606 with the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in North America—and Plymouth Company that was granted an identical charter as part of the Virginia Company. The London Company was responsible for establishing the Jamestown Settlement, the first permanent English settlement in the present United States in 1607, and in the process of sending additional supplies, inadvertently settled the Somers Isles, alias Bermuda, the oldest-remaining English colony, in 1609.


For a country-by-country listing, see Types of business entity.
There are various types of company that can be formed in different jurisdictions, but the most common forms of company (generally formed by registration under applicable companies legislation) are:
  • A company limited by shares. The most common form of company used for business ventures. Specifically, a limited company is a "company in which the liability of each shareholder is limited to the amount individually invested" with corporations being "the most common example of a limited company."
  • An unlimited liability company. A company where the liability of members for the debts of the company are unlimited. Today these are only seen in rare and unusual circumstances.
Less commonly seen types of companies are:
  • charter corporations. Before the passing of modern companies legislation, these were the only types of companies. Now they are relatively rare, except for very old companies that still survive (of which there are still many, particularly many British banks), or modern societies that fulfil a quasi regulatory function (for example, the Bank of England is a corporation formed by a modern charter).
  • Statutory Companies. Relatively rare today, certain companies have been formed by a private statute passed in the relevant jurisdiction.
  • Companies formed by letters patent. Most corporations by letters patent are corporations sole and not companies as the term is commonly understood today.
Note that "Ltd after the company's name signifies limited, and PLC (public limited company) indicates that its shares are widely held."
In legal parlance, the owners of a company are normally referred to as the "members". In a company limited by shares, this will be the shareholders. In a company limited by guarantee, this will be the guarantors. Some offshore jurisdictions have created special forms of offshore company in a bid to attract business for their jurisdictions. Examples include "segregated portfolio companies" and restricted purpose companies.
There are however, many, many sub-categories of types of company that can be formed in various jurisdictions in the world.
Companies are also sometimes distinguished for legal and regulatory purposes between public companies and private companies. Public companies are companies whose shares can be publicly traded, often (although not always) on a regulated stock exchange. Private companies do not have publicly traded shares, and often contain restrictions on transfers of shares. In some jurisdictions, private companies have maximum numbers of shareholders.


External links

Further reading

  • Dignam, A and Lowry, J (2006) Company Law, Oxford University Press ISBN-13: 978-0-19-928936-3.
  • John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Company: a Short History of a Revolutionary Idea (New York: Modern Library, 2003)
companies in Bulgarian: Компания
companies in Bosnian: Kompanija
companies in Danish: Virksomhed
companies in German: Kompanie (Unternehmen)
companies in Modern Greek (1453-): Εταιρία
companies in Spanish: Empresa comercial
companies in Finnish: Yritys
companies in French: Entreprise
companies in Hebrew: חברה (תאגיד)
companies in Croatian: Poduzeće
companies in Italian: Azienda
companies in Japanese: 企業
companies in Latvian: Uzņēmums
companies in Dutch: Vennootschap
companies in Polish: Spółka
companies in Russian: Компания
companies in Serbian: Предузеће
companies in Swedish: Företag
companies in Turkish: Şirket
companies in Vietnamese: Công ty
companies in Chinese: 公司
companies in Ukrainian: Господарське товариство
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