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I'm a little confused over which regions of the world these terms are really referring to. Also, when is it appropriate to refer to someone as British vs. English?

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closed as off topic by Jim, Bravo, jwpat7, FumbleFingers, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jun 30 '12 at 15:03

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This is really a geography/politics question and not an EL&U one. –  Christi Jun 30 '12 at 13:41
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possible duplicate of What is the difference between "English" and "British"? The question says it doesn't ask "exactly what the distinctions among UK, British Isles, Great Britain, etc are", but that question is answered by several of the answers. –  jwpat7 Jun 30 '12 at 14:23

3 Answers 3

England is a country, one of the constituents of the United Kingdom, located on the island of Great Britain. Scotland and Wales are also on that island, bu are separate countries, though also in the UK. People from England, or of descent from there, are English. English can also refer specifically to the part of the population that is of Anglo-Saxon descent.

Britain is short for Great Britain. It's the name of that big island mentioned above. By extension it can also refer to the UK as a whole. British therefore usually means a person who is from the UK. But British can also refer in historical usage to the ancient Celtic people of England and.Brittany.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a sovereign monarchy of the union of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ulster. It extends to part of Ireland as well as other territories.


EDITED TO ADD: For reference, I submit the style guidelines of the Guardian:

Britain, UK
These terms are synonymous: Britain is the official short form of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Used as adjectives, therefore, British and UK mean the same. Great Britain, however, refers only to England, Wales and Scotland. Take care not to write Britain when you might mean England and Wales, or just England – for example when referring to the education system.

and the UK Permanent Committee on Geographic Names PDF:

British
This is the adjectival form of Britain, but the word is also frequently employed as the adjectival form of United Kingdom; thus “British government” is used at least as frequently as “United Kingdom government”, and “British citizen” is actually the correct official term for a citizen of the United Kingdom. As an adjective, therefore, the term British is frequently inclusive of Northern Ireland; it is only the one specific nominal term “Great Britain” which invariably excludes Northern Ireland


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Scotland and Wales are not seperate countries, though Scotland is working on it, nor can Britain be used to describe the whole UK. If you tell an Ulsterman he is British he will probably stick a knife in you whilst snarling "I am Irish..." –  Roaring Fish Jun 30 '12 at 14:04
    
@RoaringFish: That is true. I was once talking to an Irish guy in Yerevan, when we were standing in a queue to the toilet, and when I said I had difficulty understanding his British accent he was VERY mad :))) –  Armen Ծիրունյան Jun 30 '12 at 14:25
    
I can imagine! Historically, there was an unfortunate episode where beetles from Colorado ate all the potatoes in Ireland, the English ate all the wheat, and then did nothing but watch while the poor Irish were left to eat nothing and many of them starved. Understandably, the Anglo-Irish relationship has never been quite the same since. –  Roaring Fish Jun 30 '12 at 14:42
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@RoaringFish - Scotland and Wales are countries they just aren't nation states. And most people who describe themselves as ulstermen definitely would consider themselves British even though strictly geographically speaking they are Irish. –  mgb Jun 30 '12 at 15:13
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Whether England is a country depends rather on whether you define "country" to mean "sovereign nation". Outside of the UK, "country" does mean "sovereign nation", so England is NOT a country; it's a state, just like Texas. But within the UK, the word "country" means "a sovereign nation, or England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland". This seems an odd definition to me, but it's far from me to tell the British how their language should be spoken. So if you're speaking British English, then yes, England is indeed a country, but only because it's been specifically defined that way. –  user16269 Jul 1 '12 at 6:42

This is confusing to most, mainly because of historical reasons. The best answer would be a pointer to an excellent video on youtube by CGP Grey.

  • England - Ah, well! The country whose capital is London.
  • Great Britain - England+Wales+Scotland (a geographical entity and not a political one.)
  • United Kingdom - Great Britain + Northern Ireland (a political entity, (a sovereign state) whose capital is also London.)
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England is... England. To the north is Scotland, and to the west is Wales. The three together form Britain. This is the 'mainland' as it were.

Further west, across the sea, is Ireland. Ireland is split into two. Nothern Ireland (AKA Ulster), and Southern Ireland (AKA Eire, or unofficially Republic of Ireland/Irish Republic). Northen Ireland is governed from Britain but with substantial devolved powers, and Britain + Northern Ireland are basically the United Kingdom.

I generally refer to myself as 'British' when I am abroad, and 'English' when I am at home.

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"Southern Ireland" is not valid for Eire. To distinguish the independent portion of the island of Ireland, where "Ireland" would be ambiguous, use "Republic of Ireland" or Poblacht na hÉireann, which the Irish Constitution recognises as the description of the State. Northern Ireland has a devolved government in much the same way as Scotland and Wales, that is, some policy areas are reserved to Westminster (a few permanently reserved). It is not "governed from Britain". "Britain + NI" are not "basically the UK": the UK is Great Britain and Northern Ireland. –  Andrew Leach Jun 30 '12 at 15:57
    
Republic of Ireland is a description, not a name. The name is Eire, as stated in their constitution. The 'Republic of Ireland' comes from the 1949 Republic of Ireland Act, which did little more than declare Eire as a Republic and cut off the monarch completely. Outside the UK, 'Southern Ireland' is more widely recognised than either 'Eire' or 'Republic of Ireland'. Consider ELU's readership... –  Roaring Fish Jun 30 '12 at 16:28

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