What is the difference between England, the United Kingdom and Great Britain?

Have you ever wondered why some people say England, others say Great Britain and other says the United Kingdom? Are they all the same thing? Here's the answer!

My People,

Welcome to a new month! May the month be kind to you. As you take some time out for family and friends, check out the game Fill in the Black. It is guaranteed to be the most hilarious game you’ve played so far. The hilarious guessing game celebrates blackness around the world and is a fun way to share our stories. If you’re part of this community, use the code MYPEOPLE to get 10% off when you order here!

Now, let’s discuss today’s topic. I promise you, geography is not scary. I will break it down in a way that is easy and fun so you can feel more informed about the world.

What is the difference between England, the United Kingdom and Great Britain? Before I explain, here’s a fun and colorful map.

There are 195 official countries around the world and 44 countries in Europe. Each country is a distinct territory, has a government and can make decisions for itself. Depending on the nature of the political arrangement, some countries may have greater autonomy than others. In the continent of Europe, there are four countries that are important for today’s conversation…England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

When three of these countries (England, Scotland and Wales) operate as an entity, they are referred to as Great Britain. When Northern Ireland is added to that group and all four countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) operate as an entity, they are referred to as The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Most times, this long name is simply shortened to the United Kingdom or the UK.

Confused? Check this out:

England - a country

Scotland - a country

Wales - a country

Northern Ireland - a country

  • England + Scotland + Wales = Great Britain

  • England + Scotland + Wales + Northern Ireland = The United Kingdom

It is important to note that Northern Ireland (the one that’s in the UK and with a city called Belfast) is different from the completely autonomous country of Ireland (not in the UK and with a city called Dublin). To make this easy to remember, your UK visa takes you into Northern Ireland but not into Ireland.

It is also interesting to see how the UK flag represents the entities inside it. Well, as we explained above, there are four countries inside the UK and we expect all four of their flags to combine to form the union flag. However, because of some historical drama, the flag of Wales did not make it to the flag. In essence, the UK flag represents all four countries, but only the literal designs of three are seen on it.

So, you can choose to specifically refer to England if the subject of discussion is only the country of England. The same is true for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are referring to a larger cluster of these countries, you can use the term Great Britain (to exclude Northern Ireland) and the United Kingdom to include them all.

London is only one city in England, so you can’t say ‘London’ if you’re actually going to the Welsh city of Cardiff that’s 150 miles away.


There’s so much to unpack about British geography, the British Isles, the British territories and political power, but let’s end this here. Now, it’s your turn:

  1. Did you know these differences?

  2. Have you learned something new today?

  3. What other topics would you like explained on Show Me One Thing?

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