Google says:

Government: "the governing body of a nation, state, or community."

State: "a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government."

Both definitions involve the other word, so is kind of a circular definition. I even see that in some contexts is used a combination (state goverment), like in this question.

I would like others to explain me the terms 'state' and 'government'. It doesn't need to be a completley rigurous definition, with a basic characterization is ok

Note: Linking to books or articles covering this topics is also a valid answer.

  • 1
    In "state government" the "state" is a state in the sense of a piece of a federation, i.e., the state of Texas in the USA or the state of Bavaria in the Federal Republic of Germany.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 1:50
  • 1
    Government is a "governing body" consisting of the political figures of a state. A state can be a country or a member of a federation as pointed out by @vonbrand.
    – r13
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 2:44
  • I’m voting to close this question because I believe it should be on English Language & Usage. Note to author: I’m mot completely sure about this one, but I’m leaving this here for other people to vote on. If it does get closed, it doesn’t mean you did anything bad, the question will just get moved to a different site. Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 11:53
  • @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica Wanting to understand the meaning of the word government is perfectly acceptable on this site as knowing the definition helps understand the topics in this site.
    – Joe W
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 14:03

3 Answers 3


Allow me to use an analogy. If you want to go buy something at Sears (say), you are doing two things simultaneously:

  • Going to a defined location, often a space within a mall
  • Going to a particular company (Sears) that offers the products you want to buy

The company Sears Inc. cannot exist without a physical space to put all the stuff you might want to buy; a location in a mall is not a Sears unless the company Sears Inc. decides to put its stuff on sale there. Both must pertain, or neither pertains.

The same is true in politics. A community of people (often called a nation) manages to carve out a certain geographical territory that they want to call their own. In order to call it their own, though, they need to create an organization that will administer, defend, and establish order for that territory. They draw lines on a map — like dividing walls in a mall — and everything within those lines is area where they can put their stuff to do with as they will. The territory is called a 'state' (akin to a 'store' in a mall); the organization is called a 'government' (akin to the business that operates out of that store).

In common usage people often refer to 'state actors' or 'states' as actors as a shorthand for the government which acts to benefit and control the territory of a state. In other words, they might say "The state of Israel did..." or merely "Israel did..." when they mean to refer to the actions of the government currently controlling the territory that is recognized as the state of Israel. It can be confusing, yes.


A state is an organized community, usually bound to a particular territory were taxes are imposed and rules of law are implemented to sustain itself and its members (citizens). Many people may be employed by the state for instance as Police, military or for education or state administrative tasks.

A government is a small group of people that decides in matters of the state. They create new rules of law or change existing ones and make political decisions in day to day affairs.


I believe Wikipedia is a good reference here, to quote:

Relationship between state and government

Although the terms "state" and "government" are often used interchangeably,[54] international law distinguishes between a non-physical state and its government; and in fact, the concept of "government-in-exile" is predicated upon that distinction.[55] States are non-physical juridical entities, and not organisations of any kind.[56] However, ordinarily, only the government of a state can obligate or bind the state, for example by treaty.[55]

So, an entity capable of binding or obligating associated "states" appears to be a more definitive characterization of a "government".

Unfortunately, usage appears to be less strict and interchangeable as noted by the following comment (same source) on the meaning of the concept of statehood/state in international law per the declarative theory:

the declarative theory of statehood defines a state as a person in international law if it meets the following criteria: 1) a defined territory; 2) a permanent population; 3) a government and 4) a capacity to enter into relations with other states. According to declarative theory, an entity's statehood is independent of its recognition by other states, as long as the sovereignty was not gained by military force. The declarative model was most famously expressed in the 1933 Montevideo Convention.[25]

The above is in contrast to constitutive theory in international law, as outlined as follows:

The constitutive theory of statehood defines a state as a person of international law if, and only if, it is recognised as sovereign by at least one other state. This theory of recognition was developed in the 19th century. Under it, a state was sovereign if another sovereign state recognised it as such. Because of this, new states could not immediately become part of the international community or be bound by international law, and recognised nations did not have to respect international law in their dealings with them.[22] In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, the Final Act recognised only 39 sovereign states in the European diplomatic system, and as a result, it was firmly established that in the future new states would have to be recognised by other states, and that meant in practice recognition by one or more of the great powers.[23]

So, indeed, a more confusing and complex subject than one might first suspect.

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