I’m going to start off using high-level terms and get more specific as the post goes on. I’ll also be using the terms island, country, etc. more frequently than usual to make sure this confusing web of nomenclature makes as much sense as possible.
The image below will make understanding all of this much easier:
The British Isles are a group of ISLANDS off the northwest coast of Europe. It includes the ISLAND of Great Britain, the ISLAND of Ireland, and over six thousand smaller isles including the Isle of Man and Guernsey, etc. The Isle of Man and Gurnsey are two of the U.K.’s Crown dependencies. People in the country of the Republic of Ireland instead refer to this archipelago as the British-Irish Isles.
Great Britain is not a country; it’s an island. It’s the larger of the two island in the British Isles. The countries of England, Scotland, and Wales make up the entirety of Great Britain. These countries are part of the sovereign state known as the United Kingdom (U.K.).
Ireland can refer to an island in the British Isles where the countries of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (or just Ireland) reside or just the country of the Republic of Ireland (Ireland for short). The country of Northern Ireland was created in 1921 when the island of Ireland was partitioned between the northern and southern regions of Ireland by the Government of Ireland Act 1920.
The U.K. is a sovereign state that consists of four individual countries: Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The U.K.’s full name is the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.’ Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland defer to the U.K parliament in “reserved matters” such as foreign policy and European Union (E.U.) membership but retain their own authority over “devolved matters” such as housing and education. England does not devolve any of its own powers, instead, it is solely legislated by the U.K government.
England is the largest country in the sovereign state of the U.K by population and landmass and is located on the island of Great Britain. Its capital city of London is also the capital of the U.K.
Northern Ireland is the fourth largest country in the U.K. and is located on the island of Ireland, NOT the island of Great Britain. It shares its southern border with the country of the Republic of Ireland.
THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
The Republic of Ireland (or just Ireland) is an independent county located on the island of Ireland. It is not part of the U.K., although it once was. It shares its northern border with the country of Northern Ireland.
Britain has referred to different areas over time. It’s now often used interchangeably with Great Britain, although this is not technically correct. The name Britain goes back to Roman Empire era when this area was referred to as Britannia.
- Queen Elizabeth II is the queen of the U.K. and 16 other Commonwealth realms including Canada, Australia, and Brazil.
- Since unification, the Union Jack flag represents the unification the countries of England, Scotland, and Ireland but not the countries of Wales or Northern Ireland.
- Just when you think things couldn’t get even more confusing, the U.K. voted (nicknamed the Brexit vote) to leave the E.U, which is a political and economic union between European countries. The “Br” in Brexit refers to Britain (or Great Britain) and is technically incorrect because the country of Northern Ireland isn’t on the island of Great Britain but is in the U.K.
- English is the official language of the U.K. but Welsh is the official language of the country of Wales, even though Wales is part of the U.K.
- BrilliantMaps.com – England vs Great Britain vs United Kingdom Explained
- Historic-UK.com – The UK & Great Britain – What’s the Difference?
CPGrey.com – The Difference Between The United Kingdom, Great Britain, England And A Whole Lot More