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Citizen: 1. A legally recognized subject ornational of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized. 2. An inhabitant of a particular town or city.

Denizen: 1. An inhabitant or occupant of a particular place.

Same thing?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I would say the answer depends on how technical we're being.

A citizen of the United States is a legal resident who has been processed by the government as being a member of the United States.

A denizen of the United States is simply someone that lives there.

Technically speaking, one could never be, for example, a citizen of the Earth -- but we're all denizens of the Earth.

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Could you be a citizen of the internet? –  bjb568 Mar 21 at 1:17

I can think of three types of use where denizen works, and citizen doesn't.

  • For a much smaller area, especially one not defined by government: "Truman Capote was a long-time denizen of Manhattan's social scene."
  • For animals: "Rodents Of Unusual Size, like other Fire Swamp denizens, are rarely seen by humans."
  • With a derogatory connotation: "Dick Armey, like other K Street denizens, likes few things more than tax cuts for billionaires."
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"Citizen" means a person who is not just present in a city or other conurbation, but at least potential part of its social body.

"Denizen" is a much more general word which is not limited to humans, and not limited to civilised or organised places. It often has a connotation of wildness.

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This is fine distinction, and may have a lot to do with what time frame one is working in, and the legal ramifications of the term. a monarch could confer denizenship on a foreign person, with all the rights of natural born citizen, but the monarch could also revoke it. Someone who was naturalized was considered a natural born citizen with all the privileges that entailed. A fine hair to split, to be sure.

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"Denizen" is preferable to a sentient nonpartisan observer in self-description. The legal term "citizen" makes the claimant liable for the actions of corporate Person/actors.

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What have "corporate persons" got to do with a simple choice between two words? –  Nate Eldredge Jul 8 '14 at 16:43

I STRONGLY disagree with this current "top answer":

'A citizen of the United States is a legal resident who has been processed by the government as being a member of the United States.'

This is revisionist history and a disgrace to the very concept of citizenship.

A denizen is simply one who resides in a location (we agree here).

A subject is one who has been declared a member of a nation by a Ruler or State.

A citizen is one who has declared himself a member of a nation.

The moment we think otherwise we devolve into subjugation.

Citizenship arises from the individual alone.

A state cannot grant or deny citizenship. Only an individual can do this.

This change from top down membership in a community to bottom up membership in a community is the true meaning of:

e pluribus unum


novus ordo seclorum

1776 the very concept of being "subject" to a king through subordinate allegiance or conquest was OVERTURNED, In The Spirit of The Revolution, by the republican concept of consenting to being a "citizen".

I cite Ramsay Dissertation of 1789


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A person cannot simply declare themselves to be a citizen of a state, just because they are currently residing there. –  Simon B Nov 28 '14 at 21:59
This seems more like a rant than an actual answer. –  sumelic Mar 15 at 2:54
"Speaking generally, we may say that the terms subject and citizen are synonymous. Subjects and citizens are alike those whose relation to the state is personal and not merely territorial, permanent and not merely temporary. This equivalent, however, is not absolute. For in the first place, the term subject is commonly limited to monarchical forms of government, while the term citizen is more specially applicable in the case of republics. –  user3680588 Mar 15 at 4:13
A British subject becomes by naturalisation a citizen of the United States of America or of France. In the second place, the term citizen brings into prominence the rights and privileges of the status, rather than its correlative obligations, while the reverse is the case with the term subject. Finally it is to be noticed that the term subject is capable of a different and wider application, in which it includes all members of the body politic, whether they are citizens (i.e., subjects stricto sensu) or resident aliens. –  user3680588 Mar 15 at 4:13
All such persons are subjects, all being subject to the power of the state and to its jurisdiction, and as owing to it, at least temporarily, fidelity and obedience." John Salmond, Jurisprudence 133 (Glanville L. Williams ed., 10th ed. 1947). –  user3680588 Mar 15 at 4:13

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