Do you live in Britain or the United Kingdom?

by Stephen Andrews


You may have heard Britain referred to in a few different ways.


Sometimes it’s called just Britain, sometimes Great Britain or the British Isles, sometimes the United Kingdom, and sometimes The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


It can be confusing.


So what’s the difference? Are we talking about the same place? And why are there these different names? Like many things to do with Britain, the reasons go way back into history.


4 Countries in 1


Just to be clear – although you probably already know this – we’re not talking just about England here, but also Scotland, Wales and Ireland (itself divided into Northern and Southern Ireland). Believe it or not, some badly informed people think that Wales and Scotland are actually in England!


So what is the British Isles?


The ‘British Isles’ is really just a kind of geographical description. It’s a collective name used for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and over 6,000 smaller islands around their coasts. This includes the Isle of Skye, Isle of Man, Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight. (Find out more about these islands in my earlier blog Island hopping across Britain).


How about ‘Great Britain’?


Gradually, over time, the British Isles, with the exception of Ireland, became known as ‘Great Britain’. This was because Scotland and Wales, which had been separate from England until 1707, joined with England and became governed by Parliament in London. Up until then, both Scotland and Wales had their own Kings and Queens and regularly fought wars with England. The Britain we know today was created. Today, some Scottish and Welsh people want independence for their countries again. But that’s a whole different story!


The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


All of Ireland was under English rule until 1922 when it became an independent country. But the people in an area to the north of the country wanted to remain loyal to England and exercised their right to stay within the United Kingdom.


So that’s why Ireland is split into two separate countries. Northern Ireland in the north and the Republic of Ireland in the south, separated by a border.


The southern Republic is not in Great Britain or the United Kingdom and has its own parliament. Although, as I’ve said, because it is an island, it is physically a part of the ‘British Isles’.


So, in summary, the ‘United Kingdom’ is England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And ‘Great Britain’ is England, Scotland and Wales.


Slightly confusing, but take a look at the map here and all should become clear!


As you can see Britain is unique in that it combines several quite different countries and cultures in one.


If you’re living or travelling here, you’ll encounter a variety of cultures and languages. Even in England itself, you’ll find that people in different regions speak with accents that are not like ‘normal’ English.


In next month’s blog, I’ll explore some of these.




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