How Many States Are in the USA — 50 or 52?

By Caitlin MakaLast Updated Apr 7, 2021 3:01:35 PM ET
Map Usa
Photo Courtesy: Keith Binns/E+/Getty Images

Wondering how many states are in the US? Across the country, young students learn how many states are in the United States of America (USA). While many U.S. residents know there are 50 states, other folks still wonder if there are actually 52 states of America. So, where's that confusion coming from? While the US contains 50 states, it also oversees 14 territories, including a federal district and some island nations.

While Delaware, the first state, was established back in 1787, the "newest," Hawai'i, attained its statehood in 1959. Of the 50 states, 48 of them are referred to as being "contiguous," which simply means that they're touching or connected. As of now, the only non-contiguous states are Alaska, which touches Canada, and Hawai'i, which is a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Still, why do people think there are 52 United States of America? Most often, this mistake stems from people wrongly including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., also known as the District of Columbia, in their count.

The District of Columbia

The District of Columbia is not considered to be one of the states, nor is it a territory. Officially, it's a federal district — and home to the country's capital city, Washington, D.C. According to Merriam-Webster, a federal district is defined as "a district set apart as the seat of the central government of a federation." The District of Columbia has its own council and mayor, but Congress has jurisdiction over the district. Recently, the push for D.C. to attain statehood has gained momentum. 

Puerto Rico

Many people mistake Puerto Rico for a state, but it's actually a territory. Located in the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico's main island is home to nearly 4 million people, while many more live on the territory's smaller islands, which include Culebra, Mona, and Vieques. Although Puerto Rico is a territory, its residents hold American citizenship. Similarly to D.C., some folks want Puerto Rico to attain statehood — while others are fighting for Puerto Rico's independence. 

Other US Territories

Including Puerto Rico, 14 territories are overseen by the United States. Some of these territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa, are inhabited. Additionally, Midway Atoll and Palmyra Atoll are also inhabited, but have populations of less than 100 people. The other, uninhabited territories include Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Wake Island, and Navassa Island. The majority of these territories are located in the Pacific Ocean. 

Other Must-Know Facts About the States

  • Between 1797 and 1790, 13 states were ratified by officials. Known as the 13 original colonies, these states include Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.


  • Four of the 50 states include the term "Commonwealth" in their official names, which references the English term for a political community founded for the common good. Those four states are Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. 


  • From the time the first state was established in the U.S. until the last state was added, 172 years had passed.


  • In 1959, the last two states ― Alaska and Hawaii ― entered the union.


  • Prior to 1959, the previous states admitted to the union were New Mexico and Arizona, which occurred in 1912.