Great Britain vs. U.K.: What’s the difference? Here’s an easy breakdown.
If you’re an American who’s not so sure what the difference is between Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and England, you’re not alone.
During his recent trip to London, President Donald Trump showed he isn’t exactly up to speed on the terminology either. In an interview with Piers Morgan, Trump was asked about the incentive for the United States to work out a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, Trump stumbled a bit:
“We would make a great deal with the United Kingdom because they have product that we like. I mean they have a lot of great product. They make phenomenal things, you know, and you have different names — you can say ‘England,’ you can say ‘U.K.,’ you can say ‘United Kingdom’ so many different — you know you have, you have so many different names — Great Britain. I always say: ‘Which one do you prefer? Great Britain? You understand what I’m saying?'”
When Morgan stepped in to note that Great Britain and the U.K. weren’t exactly the same, Trump said, “Right, yeah. You know I know, but a lot of people don’t know that. But you have lots of different names.”
He’s probably right about that last part, and to be totally real, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Should you find yourself in a situation where that kind of knowledge is useful, here’s a quick guide.
There’s a lot of overlap between the British Isles, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. For instance, England is part of all three groups, and all that overlap can make it a little tricky to remember the distinctions. (Full disclosure: I wasn’t personally up to speed on this until just a few years ago so don’t feel bad if you’re not either.)
The British Isles
The British Isles aren’t a country or political alliance. This is just a geographic term used to describe England, Wales, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the small islands spread out along the coasts. There probably aren’t too many contexts where you’ll need to use this term, but it’s good to know.
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a sovereign state made up of four separate countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Until 1922, the Republic of Ireland was also part of the United Kingdom. London is the capital of the United Kingdom. The area’s formal name is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Knowing this, it’s pretty easy to guess what Great Britain is…
Each of the four individual countries has its own flag.
But together, they’re all represented under the Union Jack.
Great Britain is the United Kingdom without Northern Ireland. It’s made up of England, Wales, and Scotland. One way to remember the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain is that the United Kingdom unites two separate islands, whereas Great Britain is all part of one basic landmass. It’s important not to use Great Britain and the United Kingdom interchangeably for a number of political reasons.
This all probably seems pretty silly, but these are questions that do come up from time to time. Now, odds are that none of us are ever going to find ourselves in the position of being the President of the United States asked in an interview about this, but you never really know when you’ll end up in an “Oh man, what’s the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain?” pickle. For those moments, feel free to bookmark this page.
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