Can you use "Isle" like "Island" when referring to a non-specific Island?

For example, in

"We took a trip with his new boat and made a stop at this small isle just a bit off the coast"

...does this work?

It sounds wrong to me to not use "island" in this scenario, but I really don't know if it's technically correct to say "isle" and it just sounds off or if it's incorrect to use it like this.

  • 'Sounds off' grades into 'incorrect'. These Google Ngrams give an indication of how commonly used 'small isle' is. It's fine used in a poetic or historic register, but not in your sentence. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 3 '16 at 11:15
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    By "F.e.", do you mean "for example"? As the questions and answers on this site are intended for future reference, please use the standard abbreviation, "e.g.". – Lawrence Aug 3 '16 at 11:29
  • It's unconventional, but allowed. I would see it as "flowery" or "poetical", and you can decide whether that is an appropriate tone for your article. – Max Williams Aug 3 '16 at 11:32
  • Generally, "isle" implies a degree of familiarity or affection for the piece of land. And it's not a formal term. – Hot Licks Aug 3 '16 at 11:48
  • If you're reporting an activity that you actually did then you're not referring to a non-specific isle. It is a specific island you're talking about because you've told us you 'made a stop at' it. – Arm the good guys in America Nov 30 '17 at 15:36

You have the right intuition about the word 'isle':

  • technically, it refers to the same concept as an island. So it is technically correct.
  • at the same time, it has particular associations, that 'island' does not, with being poetic or flowery or in fixed phrases or very particular islands ('Isle of Wight').

So you would be totally understood if you used it instead of island, it is technically correct, but it would sound slightly fancy, like you're trying to be poetic. The point is that the different word will invoke a slightly different feeling in the hearer.

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I don't think it is standard usage, according to the Oxford Learner's Dictionary isle is used mainly in specific contexts like:

used especially in poetry and names to mean ‘island’

the Isle of Skye

the British Isles

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    Also, in my experience of living in the Highlands, almost no-one locally ever refers to'the Isle of Skye', although that is its formal name in English. We just call it 'Skye'. – Spagirl Aug 3 '16 at 13:15

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