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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term contiguous United States refers to the 48 U.S. states located on the North American continent south of the U.S. border with Canada, plus the District of Columbia.[1] The term excludes the states of Alaska and Hawaii, and all off-shore U.S. territories and possessions, such as Puerto Rico.[2][3][4][5]

Together, the 48 contiguous states and D.C. have an area of 3,119,884.69 square miles (8,080,464.25 km²). Of this, 2,959,064.44 sq mi (7,663,941.71 km²) is land, comprising 83.65% of U.S. land area. Officially, 160,820.25 sq mi (416,522.38 km²) is water area, comprising 62.66% of the nation's water area. Its 2000 census population was 279,583,437, comprising 99.35% of the nation's population. Its population density was 94.484 inhabitants/sq mi (36.480/km²), compared to 79.555/sq mi (30.716/km²) for the nation as a whole.[6]

The map below shows the contiguous United States and, in an inset box in the lower left, the two states that are not contiguous.

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming Delaware Maryland New Hampshire New Jersey Massachusetts Connecticut West Virginia Vermont Rhode Island Map of USA with state names 2.svg
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Other terms

While coterminous U.S. and conterminous U.S. have the same precise meaning as contiguous U.S., other terms commonly used to describe the 48 contiguous states have some degree of ambiguity.


Continental United States

Because Alaska is also on the North American continent, the term continental United States, if interpreted literally, should also include that state,[7] so the term is sometimes qualified with the explicit inclusion or exclusion of Alaska to resolve any ambiguity.[8][9][3][10][11] The term was in use prior to the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states of the United States, and at that time usually excluded outlying territories of the U.S.[12][13] However, even before Alaska became a state, it was sometimes included within the "Continental US".[14]

The lower 48

The term lower 48 may or may not include the District of Columbia (which is not part of any of the 48 states), and may or may not exclude Hawaii (which is the southern-most U.S. state). The National Geographic style guide recommends the use of contiguous or conterminous United States instead of "lower 48" when the 48 states are meant, unless used in the context of Alaska.[15]


CONUS is a technical term used by the US Department of Defense which is specifically defined as the 48 contiguous states but is silent on the District of Columbia.[5] OCONUS is the same term with addition of O for outside, thus Outside of Contiguous United States (OCONUS).

Terms used in the non-contiguous states

Both Alaska and Hawaii, because of their own location relative to the contiguous United States, have their own unique labels for it.


Alaska became the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959. Alaska is on the northwest end of the North American continent, but separated from the rest of the United States by Canada. In Alaska, given the ambiguity surrounding the usage of continental, the term "continental United States" is almost unheard of when referring to the contiguous 48 states. Several other terms have been used over the years. Most Americans are familiar with the term "Lower 48", which for many years was the most common Alaskan equivalent for "contiguous United States". However, since the 1980s Alaskans have increasingly adopted the term Outside to refer to the rest of the United States. Alaskans will speak of going Outside to vacation or will refer to being born Outside.[16][17][18]


Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States on August 21, 1959. The Hawaiian Islands are located in Oceania and are about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) from the North American mainland. In Hawaii and overseas American territories, for instance, the terms "the Mainland" or "U.S. Mainland" are used to refer to the continental United States.

See also


  1. ^ "United Airlines website". Retrieved 2008-11-25. "Contiguous United States: The 48 adjoining states and the District of Columbia." 
  2. ^ continental, adj., "being the part of the United States on the North American continent; also : being the part of the United States comprising the lower 48 states"
    Merriam-Webster, Inc. (2003). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc.. ISBN 0877798095. 
  3. ^ a b Random House (1991). Random House Webster's College Dictionary. New York: Random House. ISBN 0679401105. 
  4. ^ These maps show the contiguous 48 states and D.C., but not Alaska and Hawaii.
  5. ^ a b "CONUS" seems to be used primarily by the American military and the Federal government and those doing business with them.
  6. ^ "Population and land area from Census of 2000". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ *"National Geographic Style Manual". Retrieved 2008-11-25. "The continental United States comprises the 48 plus Alaska." 
  9. ^ "U.S. Navy Style Guide". Retrieved 2008-11-25. "CONUS - "Continental United States" CONUS refers to the 48 contiguous states." 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Alaska Airlines website". 
  12. ^ "Abstract of the 1900 Census (1904), p.xiii" (PDF). "The area … is continental United States, by which is meant that part of the United States lying on the continent of North America south of the Canadian boundary. It thus excludes Alaska and the recent insular accessions of Hawaii, Porto Rico (sic), the Philippine Islands, Guam, Samoa..." 
  13. ^ "… merchandise to foreign countries from continental United states, Puerto Rico, and the territories of Alaska and Hawaii." United States Foreign Trade (1950-1953)
  14. ^ "In the absence of any such statement, Alaska probably would be regarded as a part of the continental United States." Inland Marine and Transportation Insurance (1949)
  15. ^ "National Geographic Style Manual". Retrieved 2008-11-25. "Use contiguous or conterminous for the 48 states. The continental United States comprises the 48 plus Alaska. In Alaskan context, lower forty-eight may be used." 
  16. ^ [ Alaska Answers weblog
  17. ^ Speak Alaskan
  18. ^ About Alaska

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