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?
closed as off topic by yoozer8, Bravo, James Waldby - jwpat7, FumbleFingers, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jun 30 '12 at 15:03
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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:
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:
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
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.)
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.