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The United Kingdom consists of four separate countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Abbreviate it as “the UK.”

The history, geography, and government of the United Kingdom have led to a handful of terms that may be confusing. Be mindful of these when writing about the UK.


  • Can be used interchangeably with “the UK”
  • Not to be confused with “Great Britain”

The British Isles

  • Contains the islands of Great Britain and Ireland.
  • Also includes the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey. These are Crown Dependencies, which aren’t technically part of the UK (US writers can think of Puerto Rico, Guam, and Washington, DC)


  • Only one part of the UK
  • Not synonymous with Britain or the UK

Great Britain

  • Largest of the British Isles
  • Contains England, Scotland, and Wales
  • Does not contain Northern Ireland

Ireland (island)

  • Second largest of the British Isles
  • Contains two countries: Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • Not synonymous with Ireland (the nation)

Ireland (nation)

  • Emphatically not part of the UK
  • Also called the Republic of Ireland

Northern Ireland

  • On Ireland, emphatically not part of Ireland
  • Part of the UK, not part of Great Britain

See also

  • UK vs US English
  • US