According to the wiki page, the pips used in Star Trek: The Next Generation denote rank starting with 1/2 a pip (or hollow pip) and working up to Captain (4 pips) and even beyond into Admiral ranks. There are seven ship ranks assigned to pips: 1/2, 1, 1 1/2, 2, 2 1/2, 3, and 4.

Is there any in universe explanation as to why there is no ranking assigned to 3 1/2 pips? Wouldn't this be the perfect way to denote the First Officer? (For reference, Commander Riker wears 3 pips)

  • 12
    First Officer is a position, not a rank. Jun 29, 2016 at 3:52
  • 5
    Because there's no Lieutenant Captain.
    – Valorum
    Jun 29, 2016 at 10:29
  • 4
    @Valorum reminds me of the Corporal Captain from MASH Jun 29, 2016 at 16:27

3 Answers 3


I don't think there is an in universe explanation. The Memory Alpha article on ranks agrees that there is no rank between Commander and Captain.

However, if Riker's uniform had 3.5 pips, that would complicate the plot of Cause and Effect

Data would have had a hard time making the number 3.5 show up constantly in order to prompt him to defer to Riker's suggestion for saving the Enterprise.

As Lighthart points out in the comments, we can assume that Star Fleet insignia is descended from that of the old Earth navies.

This article on US Navy rank insignia shows the equivalent of 2 1/2 pips for Lt. Commander.

enter image description here

It also shows that there is no 3 1/2 pips rank between Commander (3)

enter image description here

and Captain (4)

enter image description here

  • 3
    That image would be more helpful if it included one of the ones that does half a half-pip, or in this case thinner line.
    – DCShannon
    Jun 29, 2016 at 14:57
  • @DCShannon Good point. I'll add one.
    – Blackwood
    Jun 29, 2016 at 15:08
  • 2
    Wouldn't 'descended from earth navies' be an in-universe explanation?
    – Lighthart
    Jun 30, 2016 at 23:00
  • @Lighthart I think that's a reasonable assumption.
    – Blackwood
    Jun 30, 2016 at 23:04
  • I'm not sure the remark about "Cause and Effect" adds much, because the suggestion to "Decompress main shuttle bays!" Could have come from someone else. Jan 11, 2017 at 14:59

There is no explanation but there is no 3.5 pip because there should be a significant enough visual difference between the captain and the rest of the officers, just like there is a very significant difference between admirals and the lower ranked officers.

Having army experience, I think this may be very important. Having little visual difference (like from 3.5 to 4 in the case of Star Trek) could create confusion at anything but low range.


The best explanation I can think of is whoever designed them saw the word Leiutenant in 3 and considered them, more or less the same and so needed a way to distinguish the different Lt.s where as the rest of the ranks are their own and as such don't need an extra signifier.

The is somewhat shown by the what we see in most of ST and that is...
Cpt = controls ship
Cmd = Controls Crew
LtC = Controls Department
Lt = Controls Shift
LtJ = Controls Team
Ensign = Controls noone

shift, team, and department, are all pretty much the same thing and there is overlap where as there is no overlap between the other ranks or Lt.s with other ranks (save Op.s officer which is a special circumstance)

  • Sort of... Troi is a LtC and then Cmd when she passed the Bridge Officer Test. She doesn't control the crew but rather than job falls to the position of First Officer. Data is the Second Officer and LtC but to my knowledge, his position as Ops Officer doesn't have direct reports (that we see). Worf is a Lt but as Chief Security Officer, he controls a department not just a shift. Aug 2, 2016 at 16:52
  • @Chrismas007 Troi & Crusher are both special circumstances so who knows. Data should technically be Commander ranks due to Ops position.
    – Durakken
    Aug 2, 2016 at 16:55
  • I am curious why Worf never got the LtC promo as Security Chief. Aug 2, 2016 at 16:58
  • my best guess is where Geordi showed exemplary performance it could be justified to give him the official rank where as Worf had many reprimands and notes in his files that restricted him from advancing super fast. The same thing could be said of Data too. He was held back due to being an android and as such his rank does not reflect his position as it should... We also see this in Spock who is the person who should be Captain of the Enterprise in the eyes of everyone but seeds to Kirk, thus making Spock LtC, not Cpt like he should be.
    – Durakken
    Aug 2, 2016 at 17:07
  • Kirk (new timeline) manipulates Spock into giving him provisional control over flagship with no previous rank experience. Picard works his way up the ranks and has to Captain a ship before getting the flagship... Aug 2, 2016 at 17:13

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