Do you know the difference between England, Britain, Great Britain and the UK?

2009 August 17
by Henry

Something that everyone in the UK should should understand is the differences in the UK’s geography. There are some very important distinctions that many foreigners frequently mix up.

When we use the term UK, we’re actually using an abbreviation. UK is short for United Kingdom, which in itself is short for, the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

When we talk about Great Britain we’re actually just talking about a geographic feature – and not a political country. Great Britain is the large island made up of England, Scotland and Wales – this excludes all the islands like the Isle of Wight and many other islands around the coastline.

However, the ambiguity creeps in when you refer to just use the word Britain. This could be a political or geographic reference. Politically it refers to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Or geographically it could refer to the island of Great Britain.

Some people will refer to the UK as Great Britain, but really that’s a bit sloppy. It’s like referring to North America when you really mean the USA. Even worse still some people refer to the Scottish as English.

However it’s always straightforward either. For example, someone born in Northern Ireland has the right to identify themselves as either Irish, British or both. This is a provision that was made in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. But then Northern Ireland politics has always been complicated.

There’s a tiny mention about these different regions in the British citizenship test and is something that should probably be expanded upon.

Understanding the differences in the British Isles

Diagram Credit: Wikipedia

5 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 November 10

    In my ESOL course with Citizenship for Indefinite Leave to Remain and UK Citizenship which I done from Intelligent Training Academy, I learned the same information. You have explained very clear witht the diagram. Even my English was not good but I passed the test.

  2. 2010 June 23

    Very useful info. I think the analogy to the USA and North American is apt, although it does seem a little more complicated than that in the UK.

  3. 2012 May 30
    John permalink

    My understanding is that before the Act of Union, Britain was England and Wales. Great Britain is Scatland, England and Wales.

  4. 2012 December 9
    lil permalink

    Is England a country because its not on the map?

  5. 2014 April 19
    Rowan permalink

    I am a but confused with the map as u have Northern Ireland inside the British islands

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