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Civilian vs. Citizen: What's the Difference?

Copy edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on October 4, 2023
Civilian refers to a person not in the armed services or police; Citizen refers to a legal member of a state or country.

Key Differences

Civilian and Citizen are both significant terms within society, but they serve different purposes. A Civilian denotes someone who isn't engaged in military or police duties, distinguishing them from armed forces personnel. On the other hand, a Citizen is an individual recognized by a state or country, having specific rights, privileges, and responsibilities within that territory.
Civilian life often contrasts with military life, emphasizing the day-to-day activities of individuals not associated with defense or law enforcement activities. In contrast, Citizen status emphasizes the relationship between an individual and a state, entailing both the rights granted and duties owed to that state.
A Civilian might not necessarily be a Citizen of the country they're in. For instance, tourists or foreign workers might be civilians, but they aren't citizens of the visiting country. Conversely, a Citizen can be both a civilian and a military personnel, as the term 'citizen' focuses on one's legal standing in a country, regardless of their occupation.
An interesting point of intersection is when civilians have responsibilities toward their country without being members of the military. For example, a Citizen might be called upon for jury duty or to vote. Yet, these civic duties don't negate their Civilian status.
Finally, while Civilian status can change based on one's job role, Citizen status is often more permanent, stemming from birth, naturalization, or other legal processes. It's the citizenship that gives an individual the right to participate fully in the civic life of a nation.

Comparison Chart


Person not in armed services or police.
Legal member of a state or country.

Role in Society

Distinguished from military or law enforcement personnel.
Holds rights and responsibilities in a state.

Status Change

Based on job role.
Based on birth, naturalization, etc.


Not specific to a state or country.
Specific rights in a state or country.

Associated Duties

No specific duties to a state or country.
Civic duties like voting, jury duty, etc.

Civilian and Citizen Definitions


Pertaining to civil life and ordinary citizens.
Civilian clothes make him blend in with the crowd.


One entitled to the rights and duties of a country.
As a Citizen, she felt obligated to follow the laws.


A non-military or non-police person.
The bomb exploded in a busy Civilian area.


A person with legal membership in a country.
Every Citizen has the right to vote in elections.


One outside the armed forces.
He transitioned from a soldier to a Civilian after the war.


A person regarded in terms of their behavior or attributes.
Be a good Citizen and help your neighbors.


A person not involved in military or police activities.
The Civilian population often faces challenges during wartime.


A native or naturalized individual of a state.
She became a Citizen after years of residency and passing the exam.


Someone not connected to any professional or specialized field.
He was the only Civilian in a room full of soldiers.


An inhabitant of a particular place.
He's been a proud Citizen of New York for years.


A person who is not an active member of the military, the police, or a belligerent group in a conflict.


A person owing loyalty to and entitled by birth or naturalization to the protection of a state or nation.


A person who is not an employee of the government
Programs available to both government employees and civilians.


A resident of a city or town, especially one entitled to vote and enjoy other privileges there.


A specialist in Roman or civil law.


A civilian.


Of, relating to, or being a civilian or civilians
Civilian clothes.
A civilian career.


A native, inhabitant, or denizen of a particular place
Citizens of rural Utah.


A person following the pursuits of civil life, especially one who is not an active member of the armed forces.
Three civilians were apprehended by the soldiers and taken away in a military vehicle.


A resident of a city or town, especially one with legally-recognized rights or duties.


(informal) A person who does not belong to a particular group or engage in a particular activity, an outsider.
The bathroom was for employees only, so civilians weren't allowed to use it.


A legally-recognized member of a state, with associated rights and obligations; a person considered in terms of this role.
I am a Roman citizen.


One skilled in civil law.


An inhabitant or occupant: a member of any place.
Diogenes reckoned himself a citizen of the world.


A student of civil law at a university or college.


(Christianity) A resident of the heavenly city or later of the kingdom of God: a Christian; a good Christian.


Not related to the military, police or other governmental professions.
The three detainees were actually army defectors wearing civilian clothing.
He worked as a civilian journalist for ten years before being employed by the public broadcaster.


A civilian, as opposed to a police officer, soldier, or member of some other specialized (usually state) group.


One skilled in the civil law.
Ancient civilians and writers upon government.


(obsolete) An ordinary person, as opposed to nobles and landed gentry on one side and peasants, craftsmen, and laborers on the other.


A student of the civil law at a university or college.


A term of address among French citizens during the French Revolution or towards its supporters elsewhere; dated a term of address among socialists and communists.


One whose pursuits are those of civil life, not military or clerical.


(computing) An object.


A nonmilitary citizen


One who enjoys the freedom and privileges of a city; a freeman of a city, as distinguished from a foreigner, or one not entitled to its franchises.
That large body of the working men who were not counted as citizens and had not so much as a vote to serve as an anodyne to their stomachs.


Associated with or performed by civilians as contrasted with the military;
Civilian clothing
Civilian life


An inhabitant of a city; a townsman.


A person, native or naturalized, of either sex, who owes allegiance to a government, and is entitled to reciprocal protection from it.


One who is domiciled in a country, and who is a citizen, though neither native nor naturalized, in such a sense that he takes his legal status from such country.


Having the condition or qualities of a citizen, or of citizens; as, a citizen soldiery.


Of or pertaining to the inhabitants of a city; characteristic of citizens; effeminate; luxurious.
I am not well,But not so citizen a wanton asTo seem to die ere sick.


A native or naturalized member of a state or other political community


Who is a Citizen?

A Citizen is a legal member of a state or country.

What is a Civilian?

A Civilian is a person not in the armed services or police.

Can a person be both a Civilian and a Citizen?

Yes, a person can be both, for instance, a legal member of a country not in military service.

Can a soldier be a Citizen?

Yes, a soldier can be a Citizen if they have legal membership in a country.

Is every Civilian a Citizen?

No, a Civilian can be a foreigner or non-resident and not hold citizenship.

Can a Citizen have duties to their country?

Yes, Citizens often have civic duties like voting or jury service.

Do all Citizens have the right to vote?

While many Citizens have this right, voting eligibility can vary based on country and other factors.

Is the term Civilian used in professional contexts?

Yes, it can denote someone not connected to a specific professional field.

How does one change their Citizen status?

Through processes like naturalization, birth, or other legal methods.

Do Civilians have rights in foreign countries?

While Civilians have human rights, they might not have the same rights as Citizens in foreign lands.

Is there a difference between a Citizen's and Civilian's duty in wartime?

While Citizens might have broader responsibilities, Civilians, specifically, are often expected to follow laws and avoid direct combat roles.

Can a person be a Citizen of multiple countries?

Yes, this is called dual (or multiple) citizenship.

Can someone lose their Citizen status?

Yes, through processes like renunciation or in rare cases, denaturalization.

Are rights the same for every Citizen within a country?

Generally, yes, but rights might vary based on factors like age (e.g., voting age).

Are all residents of a country considered Citizens?

No, residents might not be Citizens if they haven't undergone naturalization or don't hold legal membership.

Can a Civilian join the military?

Yes, a Civilian can enlist or be commissioned into the military.

Can a foreign Civilian become a Citizen?

Yes, often through processes like naturalization.

Why is the distinction between Civilian and Citizen important?

It helps define a person's role, rights, and responsibilities within society and in relation to a state.

Is every person in a country, other than soldiers, a Civilian?

Most people are Civilians, but some like police might not be considered as such in specific contexts.

Are Civilians protected in times of war?

International laws, like the Geneva Conventions, offer protections for Civilians during conflicts.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Copy edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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