Difference between a Government and a State

Updated on March 13, 2017

States and governments vary from country to country and are not interchangeable words. However, these terms are inseparable; one cannot exist without the other. This article seeks to highlight the major distinctions between the two.


The Supreme Court of the United States

A government is an institution or organization that controls a community or state. The term is also used to refer to a body, or group of people, with the authority to govern a state or country. They are responsible for creating laws and making sure they are enforced. A government cannot exist without its people and territory, and can change as mandated by the people.

There are many variations of governments: democratic, communist, monarchy, oligarchy, constitutional monarchy, dictatorship, parliamentary and constitutional republic. It is common for a government to take on a combination of these categories. Some governments may even adopt their “own” version of governance. Depending on the type of government in place, a ruling party typically employs intrinsic means of creating laws, exercising judicial powers and enforcing laws.

A state is composed of its land, people and government

A state is an organized political community that exercises control over a territory or a geographic area under a single system of governance. It is composed of three important components: its people, a sovereign territory and a government. A state exercises sovereignty and independence from other recognized states. It is through the state in which a government exercises its sovereign powers. The state’s primary functions are to levy taxes and operate a police and military force. The state also distributes and redistributes resources and wealth, which is why politicians and lobbyists seek to influence the state.

There are several types of states. They can be member states, nation states, federated states or sovereign states. A state is required to be recognized as such by other states in order take part in international agreements.

The state is a crucial element of an established government – without the state, a government cannot exist. Even if it is controlled by the government, the state will remain the same no matter how many changes the government goes through.

Government vs State

So what’s the difference between a government and a state? It’s a common misconception that these terms are synonymous, given the fact that they are directly connected. A government can be an institution or organization responsible for controlling a state through the creation and enforcement of policies and laws. It is the political administration of a state or country. A state, on the other hand, is a geopolitical entity governed by the constitution and fiscal system created by its government. Therefore, the government wields the power to legislate, enforce, and define the laws that rule the state.

A government wields its power through the state; thus without the state, a government cannot exist. A state will collapse without the laws created by its government. As nations can shift from one form of government to another, the state (e.g. people, land) never changes.

Comparison Chart

Wields power to create and enforce lawsGoverned by laws and regulations
Cannot exist without a stateCannot function without a government
Can change or be replacedWill not change even in a shift in form of government