Do you live in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Virginia? If you do, you may hear your state referred to as a commonwealth. For example, while a neighbor to the north might say he’s from the “State of Indiana,” a Kentucky resident might say he’s from the “Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Is there a difference between a state and a commonwealth? Are commonwealths not really states? Don’t worry! If you live in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Virginia, you still live in one of the United States.

There’s no constitutional difference between a state and a commonwealth. The states that call themselves commonwealths simply chose an older, more traditional word than “state” for their official titles.

“Commonwealth” is an old term that refers to an organized political community — what most of us today would simply call a state — governed by the people, not a king. The term emphasizes the fact that citizens have chosen a government based upon the common consent of the people for the common wealth — or welfare — of those people.

The term was used by citizens who wanted to distance themselves from their earlier royal colony status under the reign of the King of Great Britain. In fact, the period of British history during which Parliament ruled instead of a king is known as the Commonwealth Period.

Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia were three of the most active colonies in the time leading up to the American Revolution. So it’s no surprise that these states declared themselves commonwealths upon independence. But what about Kentucky?

Before it became a state, Kentucky was simply the large western part of Virginia. Back then, it was called Transylvania. When it became a state in 1790, it kept the commonwealth name used by Virginia.

Today, the term commonwealth also has another meaning within the United States government. It is used to refer to territories that govern themselves but are voluntarily united with the U.S. These areas are protected by the U.S., but they don’t qualify for all the benefits of statehood, such as representation in Congress. There are currently two such territories considered commonwealths: Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands (north of Australia).

 

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    • Hi, Morgan! Thanks for being the first Wonder Friend to comment on today’s Wonder of the Day®! We thought the video was cute, too…that little boy really knows his states! :-)

  1. Hi, WONDERopolis that baby is so cute. When is a state not a state. I was WONDERing if you could do one on star wars in name of phantom menace.

  2. Hi, wonderopolis, this article was so cool. I never even thought of the word commonwealth, but I have heard welfare before. But, anyway, this was a cool article. I wonder what tomorrow’s WONDER is? I think it will be about horses or maybe the Olympics.

    • We’re so glad you learned a cool new fact by exploring today’s Wonder, Austin! Way to go! We really like your guesses about tomorrow’s Wonder, too…great job! :-)

    • That IS a cool coincidence, Barbie! Now you know a little bit more about states and commonwealths and can share your newly acquired knowledge with your classmates! We think that’s AWESOME! :-)

    • It could be, Cory…that’s a really GREAT guess! We like things that make us laugh! We’ll all have to check back and visit tomorrow’s Wonder to see if you’re correct! :-)

  3. Growing up in Virginia, I was familiar with the word commonwealth. This is a great explanation of how the term relates to other terms and the history behind the term. Great information for educators teaching state history!

    • Thanks so much for your comment and for encouraging other educators to engage their students with WONDER, Karla! We’re super glad you visited Wonderopolis today! :-)

  4. I think that tomorrow’s wonder has something to do with your funny bone and ways to make you laugh. I also think that it is about jokes to make you laugh.

  5. I loved today’s wonder. I never knew that a state could not be a state. Also, I never knew about a commonwealth and how it refers to the territories that govern themselves. Every day you have awesome wonders that I love to read and I hope it stays that way.

    • What a GREAT comment you left for us today, Megan! We’re glad that you liked today’s Wonder and that you learned something new! :-)

  6. I think it’s cool that they call some states commonwealths. We are studying the American Revolution in school right now, so this was very interesting! Is there a way to see the video?

    • We think it’s cool that today’s Wonder relates to something you are studying right now, Jordyn! Thanks for letting us know that!

      We’re super sorry you’re having trouble viewing today’s Wonder video. Some schools and school districts put “blocks” on websites and videos because they are in charge of making sure the videos and links that students see while exploring the internet at school are safe for viewing. Because the videos we choose to go along with each of our Wonders are “borrowed” from many different places around the internet, like YouTube and Vimeo, it might be a “block” from your school or district that is keeping you from seeing the Wonder video. You might want to check with your teacher or librarian to see about getting the block removed! :-)

    • We’re sorry you didn’t care very much for today’s geography-focused Wonder of the Day®, Alexia! Thanks for telling us what you thought about it. We hope you’ll visit Wonderopolis again tomorrow to explore Wonder of the Day® #493! :-)

    • We agree, Tommy! That baby was super cute and super smart! Thank you for stopping by Wonderopolis today and leaving us another AWESOME comment! :-)

  7. WE LIVE IN KENTUCKY. THE LITTLE BOY IN THE VIDEO KNEW ALL THE STATES. SOMEDAY I WILL LEARN ALL THE STATES, TOO.

  8. Thank you for helping us WONDER about our own state of OHIO.
    We learned….
    Our state bird is a cardinal.
    Our state tree is the buckeye tree.
    Our state flower is the scarlet (red) carnation.
    Our state’s nickname is “The Buckeye State”. It got that nickname from all of the buckeye trees that grow here.
    Ohio state became a state on March 1, 1803. It was the 17th state.
    John R. Kasich is the governor of Ohio. He has twin daughters.
    Over 11 million people live in Ohio.
    The capital of Ohio is Columbus. It is also the largest city.
    Some famous people from Ohio are Neil Armstrong (astronaut), Thomas Edison (inventor), John Glenn (astronaut), Pete Rose (baseball player), and Drew Carey (actor)
    Our state is special because Mrs. Phillips’ WONDERful class lives here! (by Gavin)

    • We agree that Ohio is extra special because of you guys, Mrs. Phillips’ WONDERful class! You guys sure did a LOT of extra WONDERing about the state you call home…we think that ROCKS! You helped us learn some cool new facts today, too! We never knew about all the famous people who are from Ohio! :-)

  9. I LIKE THE VIDEO. THAT BABY WAS SMART, SO SMART HE DID NOT GET ONE WRONG. HE WAS SO SMART I THINK HE WAS SMARTER THEN MS. WORKMAN. IT WAS LIKE ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A BABY? MS. WORKMAN EVEN SAID THAT. SHE DID NOT NO ALL OF THEM, BUT I DID. I’M NOT TRYING TO MAKE HER MAD, BUT IT IS TRUE. THE BABY IS SMART. HE WILL BE SO SMART ONE DAY. I WAS SO GLAD MRS. Q WAS THERE I DID NOT GET IT.

    • Hello, Kerrick Elementary! We really enjoyed receiving your comment today! We think you, your classmates, AND Ms. Workman are super smart Wonder Friends, and we appreciate you always leaving us such awesome comments when you visit Wonderopolis! :-)

    • That’s pretty smart thinking, Antonio! Thank you for adding something WONDERful to today’s Wonder of the Day® with your comment! :-)

  10. I thought that boy in that video was smart for his age.

    I also think the wonder of the day was interesting.

    Would you please do a wonder sometime about rare fish.

  11. Hi Wonderopolis! Why was your wonder When is a State Not a State? Anyway, I really liked it. At first I didn’t even know that commonwealth was a word. In a book I figured out Indiana’s state flower, tree, and bird. They are a peony, a cardinal, and a tulip tree. Thanks again for the great wonder!

    • WOW, Cacy! Thanks for sharing what you found out about Indiana’s state flower, tree and bird! We all learned something new because of your comment today! :-)

  12. I thought that today’s wonder video was AMAZING. Also, my question is, what was the first wonder of the day? I have been thinking about that for some time.

  13. We loved this funny video. Our wonder of the day is where do you come up with your amazing vieos? But, our favorite video was Do dogs really eat homework?!!!!!!
    We love every single video that’s on Wonderopolis!!!!!!!

    • Thanks for sharing how much you enjoy the videos on Wonderopolis, Miriam and Ruthie! We’re so glad to hear it! We search the internet for the best, funniest, most informative, most creative videos to accompany each Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  14. The baby is adorable!!! I also think that tomorrow’s is gonna be about something that will make you laugh. ^_^

  15. I think a state can never ever change. I think you can always be the best website ever. I think the wonder of the day tomorrow will be about how computers work.

  16. Can you write one about a Hailey making candy? Please that would make my day. I love this site it is really good for fifth graders like me. I just found out about this site today. My birthday is in two days, please make that happen.

  17. I loved the video and I learned that the baby can put a state puzzle together in 23 minutes. Kentucky is one of the states and Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas, and Alabama.

    • That baby sure knew his states, didn’t he, Ronald? We bet YOU know a lot of your states, too! Thank you for sharing the ones you saw in the video! :-)

    • We bet you ROCK at putting that states puzzle together, Noah! Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and for leaving us a comment! :-)

  18. I live in Kentucky. There is a flower of Ky that is a Goldenrod. The tree of Kentucky is the Tulip tree. I learned that the largest city is Louisville. The nickname of Kentucky is the Bluegrass State. I was WONDERing where is Wonderopolis located?

    • That’s a lot of AWESOME information about the great state of Kentucky, Carly! Thank you so much for sharing your comment with us today so we could all learn something new! Wonderopolis is a special place…that’s ALL around us, everywhere! It’s a place where you, your friends, your family, or even a Wonder Friend in another country on the other side of the world can explore and discover that learning can be FUN! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • When is a state not a state?
  • What is a commonwealth?
  • Which two U.S. territories are classified as commonwealths?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to learn more? Grab a friend or family member and take some time today to do a little online research to learn more about YOUR state.

Read the questions below and try to find the answers. Do you already know some of the answers? You might be surprised by what you learn!

  • What is the state bird?
  • What is the state tree?
  • What is the state flower?
  • Does your state have a nickname? If so, how did it get it?
  • When did it become a state?
  • Who is the governor?
  • What is the population?
  • What is the largest city?
  • Who are some famous people from your state?
  • What makes your state great?

When you’re finished, feel free to help others learn more about your state too. Share the information you learned with your Wonder Friends by posting it on Facebook!

 

Still Wondering

With National Geographic Education’s Mapping Your State activity, children research political, physical and cultural features of their state.

 

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s all-new Wonder of the Day is a real knee-slapper!

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