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What are: province, territory, protectorate, state…?

Canada has provinces, the US has states and Egypt has governorates. What's the difference?

  • That question doesn't even mention governorates.
    – ajacian81
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 4:01
  • Please read through the answers. They are all administrative subdivisions and their structure and purpose varies from country to country. Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 5:30
  • Again, it didn't mention governorates @TimLymington :/
    – ajacian81
    Commented Nov 3, 2012 at 3:49

1 Answer 1


One cannot say definitively what the difference is between a province, state, or governorate because they are merely different labels for a territory within a country. Each country's administration is unique, and the label used for its subdivisions is often a matter of historical translation or other convention. In constitutional structure and political powers, a Canadian province is arguably more like a U.S. state than, for example, a province of Finland or a province of South Korea.

That said,

  • State, when referring to a region of a country, is most commonly used for federal countries. For example, state is the usual translation of land in reference to the constituent parts of Germany and Austria. There is no hard rule— many federal states use other terms (provinces, cantons, oblasts, and so on).
  • Governorate is the conventional translation of the Arabic muhafazah, and so found mostly in reference to Arab countries.

Region and province are probably the most common terms, but there are scores of different terms used for various subdivisions of various countries, which may have no basis for distinction other than custom: departments, stakes, voivodeships, et al. Prefecture, for instance, is a historical oddity from Portuguese traders' use of the term prefeitura for regions of Japan; the equivalent unit in China is usually translated as county. And the country that was called the United Provinces (predecessor of The Netherlands) consisted of no provinces, but "counties," "lordships", a "duchy," and a "bishopric."

  • The country of the United Kingdom comprises a province [Northern Ireland], a principality [Wales] and two countries [England and Scotland]. Perhaps we're just odd.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 15:05

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