Learn English – What word can be used to describe ‘not belonging to a country’


I'm looking for a word which can be used to describe a location upon the earth which does not belong to a country. For example 'North America' though the word 'continent' can be used here. Another example would be the 'Mid-Atlantic Ridge'.

Words like 'location' or 'toponym' are not specific enough and could equally be used to describe somewhere within a country.

Within a sentence I would use it something like:

"The Mid-Atlantic ridge doesn't belong to a country, so it is (countryless)"

Any suggestions?

Best Answer

You could use the following term for territories that don't belong to anybody

Terra nullius

Terra nullius (/ˈtɛrə.nʌˈlaɪəs/, plural terrae nullius) is a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning "nobody's land",1 which is used in international law to describe territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state, or over which any prior sovereign has expressly or implicitly relinquished sovereignty.

It applies to your example of the mid-ridge Atlantic or other geographical features.

"The Mid-Atlantic ridge doesn't belong to a country, so it is terra nullius"

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, the international waters and international seabed are treated under the common heritage of mankind principle by the signatories of the convention.

if it's a piece of land above sea you can also simply say

Unclaimed territory

You'd get thousand of hits on Google for it and it's the most commonly used term.

But for things owned by several countries, like North-America, then


is the right word to use, in its strictest sense.

of, concerning, or involving two or more nations or nationalities

For example "The Himalayas are an international mountain range"

See also The Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers set up mainly to deal with the Nile situation.