What Is The Difference Between the UK and Great Britain

Have you ever wonder what is the difference between the UK and Great Britain different from each other? If the answer is yes, in what way are they different, and what should people know about these two unlike terms?

In discussions, in writing, in whatever way we express things, it is important to distinguish whether it is indeed the UK or Great Britain we are referring to.

What Is The Difference Between the UK and Great Britain
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The UK and Great Britain are different from each other and therefore cannot be interchanged. The UK is a sovereign state with four countries falling under it: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Great Britain, on the other hand, is the large island where England, Scotland and Wales belong.

So, we just have to remember that the UK is this and Great Britain is that, right? Not too fast – there are quite a lot of interesting facts that you should know so you can have a better grasp of the definitions. Here’s to hoping we do not interchange them ever again!

Let’s begin by trying to define the terms one by one. 

The Union Flag of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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The Union Flag of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

What is the UK?

United Kingdom Placeholder
United Kingdom

Map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The UK is short for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It comprises four countries, namely England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While these four are countries of their own, the UK in itself is a sovereign state.

Each country is bound to the Crown (The British Monarchy) while still assuming its local identities, including its own regional language.

But what about the Republic of Ireland?

Republic of Ireland Placeholder
Republic of Ireland

Map of the Republic of Ireland

One quick look at the map will show you just how close in proximity the Republic of Ireland is to the United Kingdom. For a quick historic background, with the exception of six northern counties, Ireland seceded from the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1922. It became a republic in the 1940s and has since then become its own sovereign state.

The six northern counties of Ireland joining Great Britain to form the United Kingdom are Antrim, Armagh, Down, Londonderry, Fermanagh and Tyrone. All belong to the province of Ulster.

Fast Facts about Northern Ireland

Location: Northeastern part of the island of Ireland

Nationality: Irish and British

Official Language: English, Irish and Ulster Scots

Capital City: Belfast

Major Cities: Belfast, Londonderry, Lisburn, Newtonabbey, Bangor and Craigavon

Did you know? The “unsinkable” Titanic was built in Northern Ireland’s capital city, Belfast.

What is Great Britain?

Great Britain or Britain for short is the largest island in the British Isles. It is tucked between the North Sea and the English Channel.

The name Britain comes from the Roman word Britannia while the word “Great” is said to have been placed so that there will be no confusion between Britain and Brittany, the nearby northwesternmost region of France. 

When you say Great Britain or Britain, you are either geographically speaking about the island or politically referring to a part of the United Kingdom which includes England, Scotland and Wales.

About the British Isles 

Confusing the British Isles with Great Britain? Here is the main idea: Great Britain is one of the islands making up the British Isles. In fact, it is the largest island in the whole archipelago.

The other islands include Ireland plus a number of smaller surrounding islands and islets, although some people in Ireland object to the term British Isles.

In total, around 6,000 make up the British Isles, and to name them all we simply cannot do!

Read more: Top 10 Scottish Islands To Visit For A Perfect Highland Adventure

Which countries are in Great Britain?

The countries of England, Scotland and Wales are found in Great Britain.

Fast Facts about England

Location: Southern part of Great Britain

Nationality: English and British

Official Language: English

Capital City: London

Major Cities: Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield

Did you know? It is incorrect and at times offensive to refer to the whole United Kingdom, Great Britain or the British Isles as “England.”

Fast Facts about Scotland

Location: Northern part of Great Britain

Nationality: Scottish and British

Official Language: English

Capital City: Edinburgh

Major Cities: Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow

Did you know? The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. This mythological creature has a celebration day of its own – the National Unicorn Day – every 9th of April.

Fast Facts about Wales

Location: Western part of Great Britain

Nationality: Welsh and British

Official Language: English and Welsh

Capital City: Cardiff

Major Cities: Cardiff, Swansea and Newport

Did you know? Wales is ruled by a Prince. The Prince of Wales is traditionally the eldest son of the British monarch. Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II’s son, is the longest-serving Prince of Wales.

Does Great Britain include Ireland?

Great Britain does not include Ireland, be it Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. If you want to refer to Great Britain while including Northern Ireland, you should say the UK. 

In summary, this is what we must understand:

  1. When referring to the British Isles, you are talking about all the islands that make up the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales as a collective.
  2. When referring to the United Kingdom, you are talking about Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales as a collective.
  3. When referring to Great Britain, you are talking about the land mass where Scotland, England and Wales belong to.

In our efforts to correctly use the terms the UK and Great Britain in our thoughts and conversations, let us also look at the differences among Crown Dependencies, British Overseas Territories and the Commonwealth Realm. All three, like the aforementioned ones, are also not interchangeable.

What are the Crown dependencies?

The Crown dependencies are the Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Jersey, and the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Are the Crown dependencies part of the United Kingdom? The answer is no. They are self-governing dependencies of the British Crown.

Isle of Man Placeholder
Isle of Man

Map of the Isle of Man

Fast Facts about the Isle of Man

Location: In the Middle of the Irish Sea, part of the British Isles

Nationality: British

Common Languages: English and Manx Gaelic

Capital: Douglas

Bailiwick of Jersey Placeholder
Bailiwick of Jersey

Map of Bailiwick of Jersey

Fast Facts about the Bailiwick of Jersey

Location: Bay of St. Malo, part of the British Isles

Nationality: British

Common Languages: English,  Portuguese, Polish and Jèrriais

Capital: Saint Helier

Bailiwick of Guernsey Placeholder
Bailiwick of Guernsey

Map of Bailiwick of Guernsey

Fast Facts about the Bailiwick of Guernsey

Location: Bay of St. Malo, part of the British Isles

Nationality: British

Common Languages: English, French and Norman

Capital: St. Peter Port

Did you know? The Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey geographically belong to an archipelago called the Channel Islands. They were once owned by the Duchy of Normandy but was passed to the Crown in 1066.

With crown dependencies, even if the head of the state is the English monarch, it still has a parliament, government and prime minister that will make laws – except those that tackle foreign affairs and defense.

According to the Ministry of Justice, these are what the Crown dependencies are not:

  • The Crown Dependencies are not represented in the UK Parliament. 
  • The Crown Dependencies are not and have never been colonies of the UK. 
  • The Crown Dependencies are not British Overseas Territories.
  • The Crown Dependencies are not members of the European Union.

What are the British Overseas Territories?

The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) are also known as the United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs). These places do not belong to the United Kingdom but they do fall under its jurisdiction. While many of these territories are self-governing, they still rely on the UK for some matters like foreign policies. 

There are 14 British Overseas Territories in total. To know more about this list including the differences between Crown Dependency and British Overseas Territory, check out this article.

As you explore these two terminologies deeper, it is highly likely that you will also encounter the term Commonwealth Realm.

What about the Commonwealth Realm?

The Commonwealth Realm refers to countries that accept the Crown as their constitutional monarch. They are self-governing but they maintain their ties with each other.

In addition to that, these sovereign states belonging to the Commonwealth Realm are part of the bigger organization called the Commonwealth of Nations or simply the Commonwealth. 

The Royal Family describes the Commonwealth of Nations as “a remarkable international organisation, spanning every geographical region, religion and culture. It exists to foster international co-operation and trade links between people all over the world.”

The following are the countries within the Commonwealth Realm:

The Commonwealth Nations Placeholder
The Commonwealth Nations

Map of the Commonwealth Nations

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • The Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Grenada
  • Jamaica
  • New Zealand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tuvalu
  • United Kingdom

In summary, this is what we must understand:

  1. When referring to the Crown Dependencies, you are talking about the three self-governing islands of Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Jersey, and the Bailiwick of Guernsey. They are dependencies of the British Crown.
  2. When referring to the British Overseas Territories, you are talking about the 14 British colonies that continue to have a constitutional link with the United Kingdom. They have the British monarch as the head of state, though some of them are self-governing.
  3. When referring to the Commonwealth Realm, you are talking about the countries that accept the Crown as their constitutional monarch.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Everything Zany Dual Citizen Travel Blog
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Everything Zany

Dual Citizen Travel Blog

Everything Zany is a Dual Citizen Travel blog: where East meets West, showing the best of both worlds. Our travel media brand is founded by travel and hotel industry expert – Ryazan Tristram, a Dual Citizen (British – Filipina) based in Worcestershire, UK. Everything Zany is a reputable and award-winning travel blog. Our work and contributions have been featured in Huffington Post, CNBC, Discovery Channel, GMA, Readers Digest, and Lonely Planet. Our missions are to build a great travel community and resource of travel tips, visa and travel guides for travellers. Join us as we travel around the globe with a mission to share the best of the world.

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