What's the difference between England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and the British Isles? And where do Scotland and Wales fit in? Are they countries? States? Provinces? Is a Scotman British?
It's understandably confusing to anyone who doesn't (a) live there, or (b) spend a fair bit of time visiting or studying the area.
Table of Contents
What does it mean when you say, “The British Isles”?
We'll start with the biggest area, The British Isles. This refers to England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and all the little islands nearby.
The Isle of Man, for example, is not part of Great Britain or Ireland or the United Kingdom, but it IS part of the British Isles. It's what's known as a Crown dependency. meaning it's a self-governing possession of the Crown. The Isle of Man is the small purple island in between the two larger islands.
The Bailiwick of Jersey (home to singer Gilbert O'Sullivan) and the Bailiwick of Guernsey are also frequently considered part of the British Isles, as they are nearby Crown dependencies – but they're actually closer to France than England. You can see them at the very bottom of the map.
What's included in the United Kingdom?
The United Kingdom is a smaller subdivision within the British Isles – excluding Ireland and the Crown dependencies we mentioned earlier. It's comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, along with any islands considered to be part of those countries (like the Shetlands or Hebrides Islands of Scotland).
The UK is a governmental division, rather than a more general geographic description. This is the actual country, and this is the bit that left the EU following Brexit. The official name is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
So then what's Great Britain?
So what's Great Britain? This one gets a little fuzzier because it's not a precisely-defined legal or political term. What's absolutely certain is that Great Britain doesn't include any part of Ireland, and it doesn't include the Isle of Man. It DOES include mainland England, Scotland, and Wales.
So where's the gray area? It's the islands. The Shetlands, for example, are well removed from the coast of Scotland, but they ARE a part of the country of Scotland. In most contexts, you would go ahead and include them in the “Great Britain” designation.
When you refer to something as “British”, this is the bundle of places you're referring to. Fair warning, though – some people from Wales and Scotland see themselves as Welsh or Scottish first, and don't much care for the “British” label.
So what are England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland?
Once you understand that the United Kingdom is a country made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, another question arises. If the UK is a country, is England a country? A city? What about Scotland?
The UK is what's known as a “sovereign country”, and it's made up of 4 countries. So yes, they are countries within countries.