Each state, or organized and independent body of people constituting a distinct political entity, has four characteristics:
- A government, or a system of creating and enforcing laws
- A population, or the group of people who inhabit the area, the size and characteristics of which ebb and flow with the birth rate, death rate, immigration, and emigration
- A territory, which is the geographic area claimed by the state
- Sovereignty, or ultimate authority of a state to govern itself without interference from outside governments or powers
Country and state are often used interchangeably and have the same general meaning. However, even though nation and country are also used interchangeably, they in fact have different meanings and should not be confused. A nation is a group of people who have the same culture, religion, traditions, and languages. Sometimes a nation also becomes a state, forming a nation-state. Examples are France and Japan. Some nations do not have sovereign territory, however. For example, the Kurds, a large ethnic group living in parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, and Syria, do not have sovereignty over a distinct territory. They have a traditional homeland, but that homeland is scattered among these five countries, and the Kurds live according to the laws of those countries and not laws of their own making.