While describing a sovereign political entity, when is it appropriate to use the words country and state?

To me, state sounds more official and academic, and country more informal, but this might come from the way the words from my language are translated into English.

Making things worse, country is sometimes used to describe rural districts, while state is one of the names the sub-entities of state/country can be called.

2 Answers 2


If we ignore the complexities of countries which are subdivided by state, there is a clear difference in tone.

Phrases such as "the power of the State" or "institutions of the State" refer to the legal authorities and ruling powers. You can talk about the sovereignty of a state, or various other abstract terms. Meanwhile, you visit a country, and talk to its citizens. A country is a physical place; a state is the country as a disembodied entity.

Also, the phrase "the State" (especially with a capital S), may be used abstractly in works of political philosophy, not referring to any state in particular.

Countries which are subdivided by states are a bit more confusing, and really have to be treated on a case-by-case basis.


On the topic of Country, State & Nation a question has already been asked on ELU.

A quote from there :

There is no standard definition. State can mean sub-national or national, or wider in the case of the Plurinational State of Bolivia; in the United Kingdom it is often taken to mean all levels of government considered together. For example, the United Kingdom currently regards itself as made up of four countries (for example here) in one nation, which is not how other places see themselves. It is all a matter of local use, usually driven by political and historical reasons.
There are other oddities: the Commonwealth of Nations has the Commonwealth of Dominica and the Commonwealth of Australia as members; Australia is a federation made up of states and territories. Meanwhile the United States includes four commonwealths as if they were states and holds two more as unincorporated territories.

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