There are a great variety of modes of land ownership and tenure
- Traditional land tenure. For example, most of the indigenous nations or tribes of North America had no formal notion of land ownership. When Europeans first came to North America, they sometimes simply disregarded traditional land tenure and simply seized land; more often, they accommodated traditional land tenure by recognizing it as aboriginal title. This theory formed the basis for (often unequal and often abused) treaties with indigenous peoples.
- Feudal land ownership, a system of mutual obligations under which a royal or noble personage granted a fiefdom — some degree of interest in the use or revenues of a given parcel of land — in exchange for a claim on services such as military service or simply maintenance of the land in which the lord continued to have an interest. This pattern obtained from the level of high nobility as vassals of a monarch down to lesser nobility whose only vassals were their serfs.
- Life estate. Under common law, this is an interest in real property that ends at death. The holder has the use of the land for life, but typically no ability to transfer that interest or to use it to secure a mortgage.
- Fee tail. Under common law, this is hereditary, non-transferable ownership of real property. A similar concept, the legitime, exists in civil and Roman law; the legitime limits the extent to which one may disinherit an heir.
- Fee simple. Under common law, this is the most complete ownership interest one can have in real property. The holder can typically freely sell or otherwise transfer that interest or use it to secure a mortgage. This picture of "complete ownership" is, of course, complicated by the obligation in most places to pay a property tax and by the fact that if the land is mortgaged, there will be a claim on it in the form of a lien. In modern societies, this is the most common form of land ownership.
- Leasehold or rental. Under both common law and civil law, land may be leased or rented by its owner to another party; a wide range of arrangements are possible, ranging from very short terms to the 99-year leases common in the United Kingdom, and allowing various degrees of freedom in the use of the property.
- Rights to use a commons, which may include such rights as the use of a road or the right to graze one's animals on commonly owned land.
- Sharecropping, under which one has use of agricultural land owned by another person in exchange for a share of the resulting crop or livestock.
- Easements, which allow one to make certain specific uses of land that is owned by someone else. The most classic easement is right-of-way, but it could also include (for example) the right to run an electrical power line across someone else's land.
In addition, there are various forms of collective ownership, which typically take either the form of membership in a cooperative, or shares in a corporation, which owns the land (typically by fee simple, but possibly under other arrangements). There are also various hybrids: in many communist states, government ownership of most agricultural land has combined in various ways with tenure for farming collectives.