A corporation is a company or group of people authorized to act as a single entity (legally a person) and recognized as such in law. Early incorporated entities were established by charter (i.e. by an ad hoc act granted by a monarch or passed by a parliament or legislature). Most jurisdictions now allow the creation of new corporations through registration.
Corporations come in many different types but are usually divided by the law of the jurisdiction where they are chartered into two kinds: by whether they can issue stock or not, or by whether they are formed to make a profit or not.
Where local law distinguishes corporations by ability to issue stock, corporations allowed to do so are referred to as “stock corporations", ownership of the corporation is through stock, and owners of stock are referred to as “stockholders" or “shareholders". Corporations not allowed to issue stock are referred to as “non-stock" corporations; those who are considered the owners of a non-stock corporation are persons (or other entities) who have obtained membership in the corporation, and are referred to as a “member" of the corporation.
Corporations chartered in regions where they are distinguished by whether they are allowed to be for profit or not are referred to as “for profit" and “not-for-profit" corporations, respectively.
There is some overlap between stock/non-stock and for profit/not-for-profit in that not-for-profit corporations are always non-stock as well. A for profit corporation is almost always a stock corporation, but some for profit corporations may choose to be non-stock. To simplify the explanation, whenever “Stockholder" or “Shareholder" is used in the rest of this article to refer to a stock corporation, it is presumed to mean the same as “member" for a non-profit corporation or for a profit, non-stock corporation.
Registered corporations have legal personality and are owned by shareholders whose liability is generally limited to their investment. Shareholders do not typically actively manage a corporation; shareholders instead elect or appoint a board of directors to control the corporation in a fiduciary capacity. In most circumstances, a shareholder may also serve as a director or officer of a corporation.
In American English, the word corporation is most often used to describe large business corporations. In British English and in the Commonwealth countries, the term company is more widely used to describe the same sort of entity while the word corporation encompasses all incorporated entities. In American English, the word company can include entities such as partnerships that would not be referred to as companies in British English as they are not a separate legal entity.
Despite not being individual human beings, corporations, as far as the law is concerned, are legal persons, and have many of the same rights and responsibilities as natural persons do. For example, a corporation can own property, and can sue or be sued.