Get it right: a country, a nation and a state

You’ve heard of countries, nations and states. But do you know the precise difference?

When I started Maphover, I assumed that each term was interchangeable – a synonym to help colour a speech or a paragraph. But I was wrong. Each term has a different meaning. For instance, England is a country – but it’s not a State. Likewise, the United Kingdom is a State, but it’s not a country. But the term state has different meanings, depending on if the ‘S’ is a capital letter. Not an ideal situation.

It’s only natural to mix these three terms up – because TV and newspapers often use the terms interchangeably. I even made a mistake in my post: what are the newest countries in the world? It should actually read – What are the newest States in the World?

Richard Campanaro of the London Department of International Relations gives an excellent succinct YouTube definition of the terms country, nation and state.
In it he provides the definitions:

Country: A defined piece of land with borders. Examples include Germany, Scotland and Australia. Internationally, there are some almost agreed principles to determine what is a country.

Nation: A group of people that share a common identity. This identity could be rooted in religion, language or traditions. The people sharing this identity do not necessarily need to be in close physical proximity. Examples include Christians and Kurds.

State: A state is a Government that oversees education, immigration and the law. Practically, this is usually over a country (like the Ukrainian Government overseeing Ukraine) or a group of countries (like the United Kingdom overseeing the countries England, Scotland and Wales).
There is a difference between a state and a State (note the capital letter). A State is a sovereign political entity, answerable to no-one. A state is a sub-section of that State, typically ruling over a smaller section. To avoid confusion, the term ‘sovereign State’ is used in preference to State.

So, for instance:

  • Victoria is a state within the sovereign State of Australia
  • California is a state within the sovereign State of USA


About the Author

David Moloney


David is the creator of Maphover, the interactive world map. David is a father of two, rides a red scooter, loves cordless drills and plays tagpro online.