England, Great Britain, United Kingdom — it can get confusing. Sometimes, the names are interchangeable; most of the time, they’re not. And then there’s Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.
So what’s what? Here’s a quick explanation to decipher which part of the British Isles you’re talking about.
The British Isles consist of the island of Great Britain, the island of Ireland and other smaller islands. It is a geographic distinction only.
Great Britain is an island that includes the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. People who live in any of those three countries are considered British.
Ireland is an island that includes the countries of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. People who live in either of those two countries are considered Irish.
The United Kingdom is a sovereign state that includes all of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland, along with small nearby islands. It’s a political distinction, and its full proper name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom is what most people mean when they refer to “Britain.”
England is the largest constituent country in the United Kingdom and occupies the southeastern part of Great Britain. People born in England are English (although they prefer to refer to themselves as British).
Scotland is the second-biggest constituent country in the United Kingdom and occupies the northern part of Great Britain. People born in Scotland are Scottish.
Wales is the smallest constituent country in the United Kingdom and is located in the southwestern part of Great Britain on the Irish Sea. People born in Wales are Welsh.
Northern Ireland is a constituent country in the United Kingdom and is located, of course, in the northern part of the island of Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign country that comprises about five-sixths of the island of Ireland, and is commonly referred to simply as “Ireland.”
For more about the terminology of the British Isles, there’s a helpful article—”What is the difference between UK, England, Great Britain (GB) and British Isles“—from the Woodlands Junior School in Kent.
Kent, by the way, is a county in England, which is part of Great Britain, which is part of the United Kingdom. Got it?