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The Difference Between England, Great Britain and the UK

Updated on October 7, 2015

Are England, Great Britain and the UK the Same Thing?

The political and social structure of Great Britain and the entire United Kingdom is fairly complex in nature. So much so, in fact, that there are a great many people in the UK itself who do not fully understand the essential differences between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Taking England out of the equation for a moment, it is probably even safe to say that most British people think that Great Britain and the United Kingdom are synonymous, when in fact - as we shall see - they are not. It is not possible to begin to cover the full differences in a work this size - or perhaps even in any individual work - but it is the aim of this page to provide a basic and definitive guide to the literal differences between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

England: The Largest Component Part of Great Britain and the UK

England was for many centuries an independant state. Bordered to the North by Scotland and to the West by Wales, England forms approximately half the land area of Great Britain but accounts for more than eighty percent of the population. England was for centuries ruled by its own monarch and parliament - totally separate and distinct from the monarchy and parliament in Scotland - and wars between England and Scotland were frequent and bloody. These wars were recently highlighted on the world stage by the movie, "Braveheart," starring Mel Gibson and moderately accurately chronicling the life and times of William Wallace.

Early Union Flag
Early Union Flag

Great Britain is the Largest of the British Isles

It is the ninth largest island in the world

Geographically, Great Britain is an island, comprising England, Scotland and Wales. It is the largest of the British Isles, the second largest of which is of course Ireland. The Kingdom of Great Britain formally came in to being in 1707, following the Act of Union of the previous year, unifying the parliaments of England and Scotland. The monarchies of England and Scotland were united more than a century previously, however, following the death of Queen Elizabeth of England and the succession to the English throne of her cousin, James VI of Scotland.

The Union Flag
The Union Flag

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Usually abbreviated simply to, "The United Kingdom"

The United Kingdom of modern times was defined only in 1922 with the indepedence of the Republic of Ireland. The six counties of Ulster (Northern Ireland) remain a part of this revamped United Kingdom. It can already be seen that the political and social structures therefore of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom have evolved considerably over the centuries. At the time of writing, devolved governments sit in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with limited powers over their domains. What this bodes for the future of the United Kingdom, only time will tell.

Union Flag or Union Jack?

What's the difference?

The Union Flag is the flag of the United Kingdom. It is comprised of the crosses of St George (England), St Andrew (Scotland) and St Patrick (Ireland) and came in to being when Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom at the start of the 19th century. As Wales was never a Kingdom, it is not featured in the flag.

There are many explanations regarding the differences between the Union Flag and the Union Jack but one of the most popular is that the Union Flag can only correctly be referred to as the Union Jack when it flies from the jackstaff (mast) of a Royal Navy vessel, denoting British sovereignty.

Further Reading on the History of Great Britain and the United Kingdom

Thank you for your visit to this page. I hope it has in some way helped to clear up any confusion surrounding the many complexities of the social and political structure of the United Kingdom. Any feedback which you have may be left in the space below.


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    • profile image

      Lupe o. 

      2 months ago

      Super helpful! Thanks

    • Gordon N Hamilton profile imageAUTHOR

      Gordon N Hamilton 

      5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Glad they made that journey, Elsie. I had a lot of family in the late 18th/early 19th century move to Australia and New Zealand. Sadly, all contact was swiftly lost which is sad.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting article. I love reading about England, UK, or great Britain, they all mean the same to me, as my mother was English without my grandparents which came to NZ in 1912 I wouldn't have been born.

      Lucky me.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have my own differences on England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. They are not very many. But what i love, is just the place itself and it people. They i would say, are the differences in each England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. For the people can change the economy, the law, and even anything to make it better or worst. I describe there sameness to me, "I LOVE England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. All are one to me, I love them all. There mother is the Island and the sea that surround it.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      8 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I love the UK, all parts of it. The U.S. also has its oddities in how it is set up as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ram Ramakrishnan profile image

      Ram Ramakrishnan 

      8 years ago

      It certainly cleared cobwebs in my understanding.


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