What is the Difference Between a State and a Nation?

By Kimutai Gilbert on August 1 2017 in Society

Although they do not refer to the same things, the words "nation" and "country" are often intertwined.


When the word state is mentioned, many people will relate it to a nation, or even consider the two words as synonyms. Although many people think they are the same, the words nation and state are entirely different from one another.


A state is comprised of four elements: government, territory, population, and sovereignty. If one element is absent, it disqualifies the area from being called a state. However, a nation can be defined as a population who shares a similar culture and ideals. A nation is formed as a result of a common race, religion, language, territory, history, culture or political aspirations. These elements are not essential and are ever-changing.

Political and Social Organization

"State" is a politic term and refers to an area that is organized for the security of people. It is a legal entity with human actions. On the contrary, a nation tends to focus less on the people’s physical needs and more on metaphorical or emotional terms.

Although a state can be multinational, a nation can not be multinational. This means that two or more nations can be within a single state. However, two nations cannot be one which makes a nation very distinct from a state. Present day multinational states include: USA, Russia, China, Britain, Quebec in Canada and Catalonia and Galicia in Spain.

A state has police power and individuals who disobey are punished. A state is a political organization and it orders, coerces and punishes. On the other hand, a nation doesn't posses strong powers. A nation is backed by spiritual, emotional and moral power and it appeals to its citizens and persuades them. It is a unity rather than a political organization.


It is clearly evident that although a nation and a state sound the same, the two terms are vastly different. The individual functionalities and attributes of a state and a nation can be used to differentiate the two terms.

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