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Commonwealth vs. State: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 29, 2023
A commonwealth generally refers to a political community founded for the common good, while a state is a specific territory with its own government and sovereignty.

Key Differences

The term "commonwealth" has historical roots and is often associated with a political community or a body of people united for mutual benefits. On the other hand, a "state" typically refers to a designated area with clear boundaries and its own governing body.
The term "commonwealth" was historically used to describe self-governing British territories. In contrast, the term "state" has been widely used in various contexts to refer to independent territories, countries, or regions with their own distinct governance.
In modern usage, four U.S. states (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) officially call themselves "commonwealths". However, this distinction is more ceremonial than functional, as there is no significant difference between their governmental structures and those of other states.
The word "commonwealth" carries with it a connotation of shared benefits, collective well-being, and mutual cooperation. The word "state," however, emphasizes territorial boundaries, sovereignty, and governance.
Outside the U.S., "commonwealth" can refer to organizations like the Commonwealth of Nations, a political association of former British colonies. The term "state," globally, can mean an independent country, such as the member states of the United Nations.

Comparison Chart

General Definition

A political community founded for the common good.
A territory with its own government and sovereignty.

Historical Usage

Refers to self-governing British territories.
Often denotes an independent territory or country.

U.S. Context

Four U.S. regions (KY, MA, PA, VA) are officially commonwealths.
50 states constitute the U.S., each with its own government.


Implies mutual benefits and cooperation.
Emphasizes territorial boundaries and governance.

Global Usage

E.g., The Commonwealth of Nations, a group of former British colonies.
E.g., Member states of the United Nations are independent countries.

Commonwealth and State Definitions


A group united by a shared goal or interest.
The commonwealth of artists came together to exhibit their work.


The bodies that constitute the organized political community in a specific territory.
The state intervened to regulate commercial activities.


A political community founded for mutual benefits.
The commonwealth thrived due to its shared resources and goals.


A specific territory with distinct boundaries and governance.
New York is a state in the U.S.


The general good or public welfare.
Policies were enacted for the commonwealth of the people.


A division within a country with its own government.
The state of California has diverse landscapes.


A self-governing territory, especially in historical contexts relating to Britain.
Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States.


A ceremonial or formal circumstance.
The President arrived in a state of great pomp.


An association of countries with shared historical ties, like the Commonwealth of Nations.
India is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.


A condition or quality of being.
The state of the economy is concerning.


The people of a nation or state; the body politic.


A condition or mode of being, as with regard to circumstances
The office was in a state of confusion.


A nation or state governed by the people; a republic.


A condition of being in a stage or form, as of structure, growth, or development
The fetal state.


What does the term "commonwealth" generally signify?

It refers to a political community founded for the common good.

How is "commonwealth" used in a global context?

It can refer to organizations like the Commonwealth of Nations.

How many U.S. regions are officially called "commonwealths"?

Four: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Is there a difference between a U.S. commonwealth and a U.S. state in terms of governance?

No, the distinction is more ceremonial than functional.

Is the term "commonwealth" exclusive to the U.S.?

No, it has historical associations, especially with British territories.

What's another meaning of the word "state"?

It can refer to a condition or quality of being.

Can "state" refer to a ceremonial occasion?

Yes, as in a "state" of ceremony or grandeur.

Does "state" always refer to geography?

No, it can also describe conditions, ceremonies, or governance.

How is a "state" typically defined?

A state is a territory with its own government and sovereignty.

Can "state" mean an entire country?

Yes, in global contexts, a "state" can mean an independent country.

Does every country have states?

No, not every country has divisions called states; they might have provinces, regions, or other subdivisions.

Does "commonwealth" imply mutual cooperation?

Yes, it carries connotations of shared benefits and collective well-being.

How do the words "state" and "nation" differ?

A state refers to a political entity with governance, while a nation often refers to a group of people with shared identity.

Can "commonwealth" refer to the general good of the public?

Yes, it can denote the public welfare or general good.

Are all U.S. commonwealths geographically connected to the mainland?

No, for instance, Puerto Rico is an island.

What's a significant global organization with "commonwealth" in its name?

The Commonwealth of Nations, an association of former British colonies.

Is Puerto Rico a state of the U.S.?

No, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S.

How does "state" relate to governance?

A state usually has its own government and the authority to create laws.

What's a historical context for "commonwealth"?

Historically, it described self-governing British territories.

Can "commonwealth" mean a group with shared interests?

Yes, it can refer to a group united by a shared goal or interest.
About Author
Written 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.
Edited 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.

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