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Say I live in the urban area of a small city in "the middle of nowhere", so as to say that it is far any metropolis and has a small population (say, less than 50,000 inhabitants).

Then, can I say "I live in the countryside"? Or can I only use that phrase if I live in the rural area of the city (i.e. the part where there are only dirt roads, houses/farms are very widespread from one another, mostly composed of cultivation fields etc.)? Are there more appropriate alternatives to convey what I'm trying to say?

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    What is the 'rural area' of a city? Oct 18 at 20:12
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    The 'rural area' of a city would be the outskirts, I wouldn't use countryside to describe that area.
    – vsundae
    Oct 18 at 20:34
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    "the part where there are only dirt roads, houses/farms are very widespread" doesn't sound like a city or urban at all to me.
    – stangdon
    Oct 18 at 20:47
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    In some countries, the administrative bounds of a municipality may extend beyond the urban area. In that case, those on the outskirts may genuinely live in the countryside. If so, we would not say, when speaking English, that they live in the city at all. Also complicating matters, many languages make no distinction between a town and a city - French "ville", German "Stadt" and Swedish "stad" can all be translated either way. Speakers of these languages may tend to overuse/overextend the word "city" when speaking English - at least from a British perspective; perhaps not from an American one.
    – rjpond
    Oct 18 at 20:58
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    @Barmar I suspect part of it is that some of these translations are written from an American perspective. Brits tend to be more familiar with France and with French, on average, than Americans, and the British press uses the French term département when referring to the administrative divisions. As an example of how Brits and Americans might have different preferred translations, consider that US subtitles might also concert degrees C to degrees F. (European subtitles that translate US films often do the reverse.) Most British people would prefer Celsius.
    – rjpond
    Oct 19 at 20:54
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I would say "I live in a provincial town".

I think what you are getting at with this question is the distinction between "an area which is mostly fields" and "a part of the country in which there are many areas which are mostly fields".

To me (a British English native speaker), "countryside" means the former. If I am in the countryside, I expect to be in a field, wood, meadow, etc. I expect there to be fields, woods, meadows, and farms as far as the eye can see. So, if I am in a town, I am definitely not in the countryside.

Whereas "provincial" is the opposite of "metropolitan". It means far from a big city, and implies being simple and unsophisticated. You can describe a person as provincial; it is not a compliment. And a town can be provincial, while still being urban.

Usefully, "provincial" doesn't simply mean "not a city". I would describe Oxford as a provincial town, because it is a long way from a big city. But I would not describe Reading as a provincial town, because it's so close to London; it's a suburban town.

(Oxford is a city in a formal sense, because it has a charter, and a cathedral, sort of. But it is a town in a geographical sense, because it is quite small.)

I should note that this use of "provincial" is a bit fancy or old-fashioned. I would not be surprised to find it in a 1950s book, an opera programme, or the Daily Telegraph. I would be more surprised to find it in the script of a modern television programme, or the Daily Mirror.

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(UK perspective)

50,000 is a largish town, but not city sized. There are some traditional cities that are as small as that (an example is Salisbury), but most cities have a population of over 100,000.

However, you don't live "in the countryside". You live in a town. That is how you can convey where you live. You might say that you live in an "isolated" or "remote" town. But this would suggest that the next large settlement is very far removed.

I live in Salisbury, a small isolated city on the river Avon. Its population is about 45000.

Cities don't have "rural parts". Nor do towns. By definition, a rural area is an area that is outside a town or city, not part of a town or city.

Now in the UK, you don't find "dirt roads". Nearly all roads are paved.

(addressing comment)

If you committed a crime in rural area you might say that the crime was committed in "county name". You might mention a nearby town or city if that helps

He committed the crime in Hampshire, near the city of Salisbury.

The typical adminstrative region outside a city or town is the "district" and the "Parish", although these are relatively bureaucratic terms. So the village of Crowhurst is in the Crowhurst Parish, and in Tandridge District (in the county of Surrey).

The US perspective is different, since "City" is used for some quite small incorporated settlements in the USA. And also for the postal address of rural area around them.

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    @MichaelHarvey many cities have cathedrals, and many cathedrals are in cities, but that's really just a coincidence of big important places. Settlements become cities when the government (technically the Monarch) decides that they should be a city.
    – OrangeDog
    Oct 19 at 16:16
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    You certainly will find dirt roads in the UK, especially if you set your SatNav for "fastest" route in Devon or Cornwall.
    – OrangeDog
    Oct 19 at 16:17
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    @OrangeDog - It's not a coincidence. In the 16th century, a town was automatically recognised as a city by the English Crown if it had a diocesan cathedral. Thus Wells in Somerset, population approx. 10,000, is a city because it contains the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, whereas Taunton, population 70,000, is only a town. From the 16th to the 19th century, the Church created no new dioceses. From 1836 a city could petition the Crown to be made a city. Oct 19 at 17:44
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    @MichaelHarvey: It’s certainly technically true that some “cities” are very small, and some very large towns aren’t “cities”. But in ordinary usage, a city typically just means a particularly large and significant town.
    – PLL
    Oct 20 at 12:02
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    US perspective, 50K people, or even 10K, is a town.
    – Reid
    Oct 20 at 15:47
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If you live in the city of Decatur, Illinois (pop. ~30K) you cannot say you live in the countryside. You live in a small city/town. Your city will most likely have public water and sewage, paved roads, a city police force, its own post office(s), and many other amenities available to city dwellers.

If you live 100 KM south of Chicago (pop ~7 million) you will most likely be out in country with dirt roads, fences, corn, and cows. If you live there, you live in the countryside. You will most likely have well water, a septic tank, and long drive a good grocery store.

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I would say that the word "city" has both a social and a legal aspect. From a social aspect, a "city" is an urban area, a place with many buildings and little green space except in parks. From a legal aspect, a city is whatever is inside the official city boundaries, which may include some area that is rural in aspect, and is not unlikely to include some area that is suburban.

I notice that the word "suburb" does not seem to get many mentions in this thread, but I think it is quite relevant.

Say I live in the urban area of a small city in "the middle of nowhere", ... can I say "I live in the countryside"?

You can say whatever you like, but if you live in an urban or semi-urban area, most people I know would badly misunderstand you when you say: "I live in the countryside".

To me "the countryside" refers to either a truly rural area, where either farms or undeveloped land predominates, or a semi-rural area, where residential uses predominate, but each home sits on a large plot, usually several acres or more. The word 'countryside" tends to suggest small roads with little traffic (except for occasional highways cutting through). It suggests areas with lots of trees or other vegetation, or crops, or in some areas relatively barren land with little vegetation but few artificial structures.

In a few places areas I might call "countryside" are legally part of a city, but this is rather rare.

The place I currently live is definitely suburban. Houses are single-family, and sit on anywhere from 1/4 acre to 2-3 acres each. But areas filled with office buildings are within walking distance, and a definitely urban area is within 15 minutes drive. I would not call this "the countryside".

I have lived in a municipality of about 25,000-30,000 population, that was largely suburban, with some small urban areas, and some definitely rural areas. It was not legally a city, but a township, but that was a matter history, other nearby similar jurisdictions were legally cities. Except for the areas that remain dedicated to farming, I would not call any of it "the countryside" but none of it is a dense urban area either. Neither of the pictures in the answer by Michael Harvey fit any of it at all well.

So based on the description in the question, I would not speak of the area as "countryside".

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  • In the US, it also has a postal aspect. That is, I live in the country, quite some distance from both the legal city limits (which include a good bit of non-urban land) and the urbanized area of the nearest city, but if you wanted to send me a letter or package, it would still go to me at (name of road), city, state.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 19 at 18:23
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    @jamesqf Although the term "city is often used for it, that section of a US address just before the state is more accurately called the "name of post office" as there is such a name for every postal code, even ones not part of any incorporated municipality, whether city, town, village or township. It is often but not always the name of a city or town, but sometimes a more specific name is given even inside a city which does not match the name of any incorporated entity. One place I have lived used a neighborhood name, for example. One would not describe a place as a "city" due to such a name. Oct 19 at 18:36
  • @DavidSiegel - the postal thing is a good catch. In Britain, historically the mail was organised by county, and each one had a 'post town', usually the same as the county town, e.g. Leicester was the post town for Leicestershire (which was the necessary final part of the postal address). My father's village in Leicestershire was an anomaly being in a remote corner of that county near Derbyshire, so that we wrote 'Near Derby' on letters to Granny. Oct 20 at 12:10
  • An extreme case of "not legally a city" is Paradise, Nevada, with a population around 200k, but deliberately unincorporated because casino owners didn't want to pay Las Vegas property taxes, and raised a big stink about it in 1950 when the city attempted to annex their land. Nevertheless, the casinos continue to use "Las Vegas" in their advertising and in their mailing addresses.
    – dan04
    Oct 20 at 20:32
  • @DavidSiegel: And then you have the really weird oddities, like the USPS insisting that Manhattan should be called "New York" but the other four boroughs get their more usual names.
    – Kevin
    Oct 21 at 7:24
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If you live in a rural area you do not live in a city.

A city is a place where many people live, with many houses, stores, businesses, etc., and which is bigger than a town.

City (Cambridge Dictionary)

enter image description here

The countryside is land not in towns, cities, or industrial areas, that is either used for farming or left in its natural condition:

Countryside (Cambridge Dictionary)

enter image description here

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  • (I'd like to direct this comment to all answers) Thanks Michael, can you just clarify this: Let's say I commit a crime in the place depicted by the last picture. How would one say where I commited the crime? Wouldn't "he commited the crime in Fremont, Nebraska", where Fremont is the city, be correct?
    – LoremIpsum
    Oct 18 at 20:40
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    Administrative subdivisions have different names in different countries. Province, state, municipality, county, district, township, etc. Oct 18 at 21:51
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    @LoremIpsum - the lower picture is very obviously not "in" any city. Oct 18 at 21:53
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    I would likely refer to a place as being "in" a city if it's a (sub)urban-ish region within a mile or two of the city limits. Especially here in the Houston area where the legal city limits resemble a Rorschach ink blot. But the bottom photo here would definitely not be "in" a city. At best, it's "near" a city.
    – dan04
    Oct 19 at 16:36
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    I feel that there an issue of the difference between legal or administrative, and geographical meanings. You could be in the 'city' of Someplace legally if you are within its borders, yet not at all surrounded by urban infrastructure (buildings, paved roads, street lights, subway lines, shopping malls etc). There is a town in northern Norway, I was once told, that is technically the 'largest city in the world', because for taxation purposes its borders enclose a huge area bigger than Wales, most of which is made up of an icy waste. Oct 20 at 9:32
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Very simply:

My town is located in the middle of the countryside. My town is surrounded by countryside.

Cities and towns are not countryside per se. In any variety of English.

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    Pretty sure that per se is used incorrectly here Oct 19 at 16:12
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek You are mistaken. Cities and towns are not countryside in and of themselves AKA per se.
    – Lambie
    Oct 19 at 16:25
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    Using per se would indicate they COULD be countryside, but aren’t intrinsically or necessarily so by itself. But cities and towns are actually never countryside. Oct 20 at 1:58
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek No, per se does not mean "could be".
    – Lambie
    Oct 20 at 13:30
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    I know that. That’s not what I said. Anyway, you’re free to look into it some more. Oct 20 at 13:31
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I'm telling my friends in Hollywood that I have "moved to the country." Out my window are vineyards, pastures, barns and farm machinery. The two lane road at the end of my driveway is paved, but very dark on moonless nights. Off to the left is nothing but farms, but if I turn right one mile away are all the evidences of the 21st century. I realize I'm in a sort of no Man's land, linguistically, but nothing but the word "country" could conjure up the proper pastoral images for my urban friends. If I were you, I'd say I lived in a "Country Town."

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    I totally understand country town. Oct 19 at 23:09
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    "Country town" is very commonly used in Australia to refer to towns some distance away from a major city, ie. "a town surrounded by countryside". I live in a such a town, one hour drive to the nearest major city - though this would be about the limit of what would be considered 'country'. Any closer and you'd likely be considered a suburb of the city. In Australia, some country towns are multiple hours drive from the nearest city, but the really remote ones might be called 'outback towns'.
    – Beejamin
    Oct 20 at 4:01
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    @EllieK - 'country town' is perfectly understandable in the UK. One that gets its reason for existence from the surrounding countryside - has a market for farmers, carries out commercial, legal and administrative functions for itself and the rural areas surrounding. As opposed to a town that has become mainly a satellite or dormitory town for a nearby big city. Oct 22 at 8:26
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Depends highly on the locale.

In North America, absolutely. Here, whether something is a city or not is defined by whether it's legally incorporated, not the population, so there are plenty of cities, with <1K pop, that wouldn't even qualify as a village in e.g. China. I have a buddy who took advantage of the apparent permanence of the WFH situation to buy an acreage next to his folks in his home town (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranbrook,_British_Columbia), where he has horses and can walk a few 100 feet outside of his property line to be outside of city limits and shoot in the woods. I can tell you, that place is rural (and redneck) as f**k. The closest settlement bigger than it is a 2.5h drive across the US border, it's surrounded by cattle ranches, a ton of people work in logging and during hunting season, the deer are a real problem, because they all hang around inside city limits, because they've figured out they can't be hunted there.

In the UK, on the other hand, that wouldn't be the case (I don't have any personal UK experience outside London, just distilling what my UK co-workers told me when discussing a similar topic).

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