A nation is a stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, history, ethnicity, or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.

A nation is more overtly political than an ethnic group;[1][2] it has been described as "a fully mobilized or institutionalized ethnic group".[3] Some nations are ethnic groups (see ethnic nationalism) and some are not (see civic nationalism and multiculturalism).[3]

It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.[4]

Benedict Anderson has characterised a nation as an "imagined community"[5] and Paul James sees it as an "abstract community".[6] A nation is an imagined community in the sense that the material conditions exist for imagining extended and shared connections. It is an abstract community in the sense that it is objectively impersonal, even if each individual in the nation experiences him or herself as subjectively part of an embodied unity with others. For the most part, members of a nation remain strangers to each other and will likely never meet.[7] Hence the phrase, "a nation of strangers" used by such writers as Vance Packard.[8]

Etymology and terminology

The word nation came from the Old French word nacion – meaning "birth" (naissance), "place of origin" -, which in turn originates from the Latin word natio (nātĭō) literally meaning "birth".[9]

Black's Law Dictionary defines a nation as follows:

nation, n. (14c) 1. A large group of people having a common origin, language, and tradition and usu. constituting a political entity. • When a nation is coincident with a state, the term nation-state is often used....


2. A community of people inhabiting a defined territory and organized under an independent government; a sovereign political state....[1]

The word "nation" is sometimes used as synonym for:

  • State (polity) or sovereign state: a government which controls a specific territory, which may or may not be associated with any particular ethnic group
  • Country: a geographic territory, which may or may not have an affiliation with a government or ethnic group

Thus the phrase "nations of the world" could be referring to the top-level governments (as in the name for the United Nations), various large geographical territories, or various large ethnic groups of the planet.

Depending on the meaning of "nation" used, the term "nation state" could be used to distinguish larger states from small city states, or could be used to distinguish multinational states from those with a single ethnic group.