What is the Difference Between a State and a Nation?

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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