Difference between the U.K., Great Britain and England

Published on November 14, 2016

Many people think the U.K., Great Britain and England refer to one place and believe that the terms can be used interchangeably. While this is not entirely wrong, knowing the subtle differences can save anyone from a potentially embarrassing situation.

Definitions

United Kingdom vs Great Britain vs England
A Venn diagram showing the U.K. and its member countries.

The United Kingdom, or more appropriately the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is an independent state composed of four relatively autonomous regions: Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. With the exception of England, these countries have a devolved government, which means authority rests in the central government or as granted by the House of Parliament. 

The U.K. has a parliamentary form of government headed by a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of state since February 1952. The prime minister is the head of the United Kingdom’s parliamentary government. Its largest city and capital is London, which is a financial center with an urban population of 10.3 million.

Great Britain, also called Britain, forms the biggest part of the United Kingdom’s territory, as it is composed of England, Wales and Scotland. It was known as the Kingdom of Britain as the result of the union of England and Scotland from 1707 (Wales was already a part of England) until 1801, when Great Britain united with the Kingdom of Ireland. The outcome of this union was the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. When the Irish Free State left the union, it was renamed to what it is now.

Geographically speaking, the term Great Britain corresponds to the island of Great Britain. Politically speaking, it points to the combination of England, Wales and Scotland. It is also important to note that the word Great Britain can also mean the whole of the United Kingdom. The word Britain (not Great Britain) used to be a formal term for the United Kingdom, and appeared as such in official government yearbooks that came out from 1975 until 2001. The government publication started using the term United Kingdom in 2002.

England is a country that forms part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north by Scotland and to the west by Wales. It covers a large part of the central and southern regions of the island of Great Britain.

Prior to its union with Scotland, England had a monarch and parliamentary form of government. It does not have a devolved government, unlike other countries under the United Kingdom. Today, England is under the jurisdiction of the U.K. Parliament and represented in the House of Commons by its MPs or Members of Parliament. Previous plans of devolving certain regions of England were rejected.

United Kingdom vs Great Britain vs England

So what’s the difference between United Kingdom, Great Britain and England? One important fact to remember is that four countries make up the United Kingdom, including England. Great Britain, on the other hand, makes up most of the United Kingdom’s territory. It is an island where England, Wales and Scotland are located. The name Great Britain was commonly interchanged with the name United Kingdom in the past, and this is still in practice today.

A monarch and a parliamentary form of government rule the United Kingdom. England is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom’s House of Parliament and has no devolved form of government. Elected MPs represent England in the House of Commons.

Comparison Chart

United Kingdom Great Britain England
Independent state composed of four countries A big part of the UK composed of England, Wales, and Scotland A state under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom
Has a constitutional monarchy with parliamentary form of government The larger island of the United Kingdom No devolved form of government

Video

Here is a YouTube video that differentiates the three.