A thematic guide to the UK
Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom or what?
A guide to the terminology.
England, the UK, the British Isles, Great Britain..... Surely
there can be no other nation on earth with such a confusion of
different names ! Are the terms interchangeable? Most of the time, the
answer has to be no. But sometimes they are, and everyone uses the
wrong name from time to time, including the English... or rather the
The easiest way to distinguish between the
different national or geopolitical units is to go from the largest to
The British Isles are two large islands , located off the
northwest coast of Europe, plus a large number of smaller
offshore coastal islands. The British Isles include two sovereign
states, both of them members of the European Union. They are the United
Kingdom (in red, pink, purple and orange on the map), and the Republic
of Ireland ( in green on the map). To this must be added the Isle of
Man, which is an autonomous crown dependency, and the Channel
Islands, lying close to the coast of France, which are part of the
British Isles, but not the UK .
The UK, or the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland"
is the name used to define the geopolitical entity under the
direct jurisdiction of the British parliament in Westminster (London).
The UK includes all the British Isles, with the exception of the
Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. The
Parliament based in London is the UK Parliament, and there is no
separate English Parliament - despite the existence of parliaments in
Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a " National Assembly " in Wales .
Great Britain :
Technically, Britain, or Great Britain (originally so called to
distinguish it from the other Britain, now called Brittany)
is the largest of the two main islands that make up the British Isles.
However the term is often used synonymously with the United Kingdom -
and even in very official contexts.
Confusion is understandable ! The name Britain is
used for national sports teams and in many formal settings.
The explanation lies partly in tradition , and partly in the
grammar, because there is no corresponding adjective for the name "
The adjective British
Citizens of the United Kingdom are British
citizens. The British
Olympic team , for instance, goes under the name of "Team GB ", though it
represents the United KIngdom; and in French-speaking countries at
least, the British diplomatic mission calls itself the "Ambassade de
Grande Bretagne", even though technically it is the
embassy of the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Great Britain.
Letterhead of the British Embassy
Elizabeth II, while technically Queen of the
United Kingdom and other territories, is often referred to as the
"Queen of England", though not officially.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland :
England is the country - bright red on the map -
covering half the surface of Great Britain, and comprising
approximately 90% of its population. It includes some offshore islands
such as the Isle of Wight or the Scilly Isles. England is one of the
four countries of the United Kingdom, the others being Scotland (pink)
, Wales (purple) and Northern Ireland (orange).These countries
are administratively divided into counties and
metropolitan areas. The administrative division of the country has
changed significantly in recent decades, to take account of demographic
and social changes .
Unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,
England has no national or regional parliament distinct from the United
Kingdom parliament. The parliament that sits at London is both the parliament of the United Kingdom,
and the parliament of England.
In many languages, the word meaning "England" is often used
- incorrectly - to refer to the United Kingdom. The English often make
the same mistake, but this is a mistake that should be made when one is
in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
London is the capital of England and the UK .
The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh , the capital of Wales is Cardiff
; that of Northern Ireland is Belfast.
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