The terms England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom get thrown around regularly. Oftentimes, especially in North America, these place names are used interchangeably. This, however, is wrong, and there are actually some pretty clear differences between each. So what are these distinctions? What is the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain? And is England a country?
These are all good questions, and if you’ve ever found yourself confused by these terms, you are not alone. Thankfully, we’re here to clear things up.
What is the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain?
The United Kingdom is considered a sovereign state in Western Europe, formally called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland, the United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands.
Yes, Great Britain is not a sovereign state per se, but rather a large island in the north Atlantic Ocean. On this island, you will find the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales. Residents of these countries are considered the British.
So is England a country?
Yes, and no.
While many call England a country, prompting all which that may typically imply in terms of government, power and status, it may be more helpful to think of it as a state. While this may not be an entirely accurate comparison, it does gives you a sense for England’s status within the United Kingdom.
England, along with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all make up the United Kingdom. These distinct regions bear some loose similarities to the United States, whereby the fifty states all have their own laws and government, but ultimately are all under the authority of the United States of America and the US president.
In this same way, while many people consider England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales unique countries in their own right, they are all still governed under the same kingdom.
With this, they all have their own political power and governing responsibilities. England is unique again though, in that it does not devolve any of its own powers, and is instead solely legislated by the government of the United Kingdom. Likewise, when it comes to the world stage and international politics, it is the sovereign nation of the UK that is recognized, not the four constituent countries.
What About in Sports?
If you follow international sporting competitions, you may be even more confused by the whole “Is England a country” question.
In certain cases, like the Olympics, teams compete under the name Great Britain, which is made up of athletes from England, Scotland and Wales. In other international sporting events however, like the commonwealth games, each of the four components of the United Kingdom have their own team and are often referred to as home nations.
Clearly, the lines of country, kingdom, nation and state are quite blurred when it comes to discussing England and the United Kingdom. In the end, perhaps the answer to “is England a country” simply depends on your perspective.
Think you know everything about the UK? See how well you do in this United Kingdom quiz.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.