What is the difference between England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom and the British Isles?

Although each of the the terms (England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, British Isles) has a specific meaning, the terms are not always strictly applied. Many people who live in the British Isles do not use the terms correctly, and it can get quite confusing.

Let’s look at the terms in more detail.

The British Isles

The British Isles refers to the group of islands to the north-west of continental Europe. This island group includes the island of Great Britain (made up of England, Scotland and Wales), the island called Ireland (made up of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands (Guernsey and Jersey).

United Kingdom (UK)

Officially known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the UK is made up of the island of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. It does not include the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Great Britain (or Britain)

Great Britain is the largest island of the British Isles, and when combined with Northern Ireland, it makes up the United Kingdom. Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the Acts of Union which brought together England and Scotland.

England+Scotland+Wales = Great Britain.

England

England is located on the island known as Great Britain. It shares borders with Wales and Scotland. It is part of the United Kingdom (along with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Confusing Points

  • Many people believe that Britain and the United Kingdom are one and the same. They are using Britain as a short version of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, rather than a short version of Great Britain.
  • People from the United Kingdom are referred to as British or Brits.
  • GB or GBR are used as country codes for the United Kingdom.
  • The UK Olympic team (including athletes from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) was called Team GB and not Team UK.
  • If you ask someone from England what their nationality is, they might say English, or British, or both!

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