Nationality vs. Citizenship

Nationality vs. Citizenship

What’s the difference between nationality and citizenship, national and citizen? When are the words synonyms, and when are they not? Read on to know.


If you have the nationality of a particular country, you were born there or have the legal right to be a citizen. If you have citizenship of a country, you are legally accepted as belonging to it. (Collins English Dictionary)

Nationality is the status of belonging to a particular nation, or an ethnic group forming a part of one or more political nations (large bodies of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory). Citizenship is the position or status of being a citizen of a particular country (a citizen is a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized). (Oxford English Dictionary)

So, nationality is a broader concept. It can mean two things: 1) being part of a nation or an ethnic group and 2) being a national of a particular country. Citizenship means only one thing – the status of being a citizen. A citizen is a national. So, it’s correct to say, for example, a Japanese national and a Japanese citizen. However, making the right word choice sometimes means knowing certain set phrases. For example, one type of visa available in Japan is “Spouse or Child of Japanese National.” You wouldn’t see the word citizen on the residence card because “Japanese national” is the phrase accepted by the Ministry of Justice.


To sound more natural, make sure you know the collocations:

  • dual citizenship/nationality, multiple citizenship/nationality – a person’s citizenship status, in which a person is concurrently regarded as a citizen of more than one state under the laws of those states: In the Philippines, dual citizens may not run for any local elective office. Prior to 2011, South Korea did not permit dual citizenship after the age of 21.
  • to have/hold citizenship/nationality: He has/holds German citizenship. How many American citizens hold multiple nationalities?
  • to give/grant citizenship: They were granted/given full French citizenship.
  • to grant nationality: An applicant may be granted nationality.
  • to acquire/take/obtain/adopt/assume nationality/citizenship: She is hoping to adopt/acquire/take/obtain/assume Australian nationality. Naturalization is the legal act or process by which a non-citizen in a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country.
  • To refuse (sb.) nationality/citizenship: I was refused citizenship/nationality.
  • To lose citizenship/nationality: Loss of citizenship, also referred to as loss of nationality, is the event of ceasing to be a citizen of a country under the nationality law of that country.
  • To give up/renounce citizenship/nationality: You can apply to give up (renounce) your British citizenship. You will have to renounce citizenship of this country if you apply for citizenship of another.
  • To retain nationality/citizenship: The Constitution grants women the right to acquire and retain citizenship and nationality on equal basis with men.
  • To inherit nationality/citizenship: There are quite a few people that don’t understand that you can inherit citizenship.
  • To change nationality/citizenship: The child may change citizenship only on application by the adoptive parents. All Chinese citizens, male and female, have the right to change nationality.


  • on the grounds of nationality: He accused them of discrimination on the grounds of nationality.
  • senior citizen (an old person): This is a facility for senior citizens. 
  • citizen of the world (a person who is at home in any country): They regarded themselves as citizens of the world.
  • one nation (a nation not divided by social inequality): Can you have one nation with more than one system of values?


As you may have already noticed, nationality can be both countable and uncountable. The noun is variable if by nationality you mean citizenship: The crew are of different nationalities and have no common language. An applicant may be granted nationality. It is a countable noun if you mean a group of people who have the same race, language, or culture: The poor of many nationalities struggle for survival.

Citizenship is an uncountable noun: After 15 years in the U.S.A., he has finally decided to apply for American citizenship. They had a more developed sense of citizenship.

“We are citizens of the world. The tragedy of our times is that we do not know this.” Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States

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