Sunday, February 26, 2012

England, Great Britain or United Kingdom?

Recently, I commented with my students on the news that Scotland is to hold a referendum to regain independence, and I was surprised to see how confused they were about the fact that Scotland is a nation that forms part of a bigger country: the United Kingdom.
In fact, the correct name of the country is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, and it is formed by four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Great Britain is the name of the biggest island in the archipelago of the British Isles, formed also by Ireland and many other smaller isles.
The British Isles

Great Britain is divided into three nations: England, Scotland and Wales.
  • England is the largest territory and the most populated in the country. It’s capital is London and people there speak English. The National Day is St. George’s Day (April 23rd).

England flag

Coat of arms

Emblem: England rose

  • Scotland lies to the north of England, and is part of the United Kingdom since the Acts of Union of 1707. It is not so densely populated as England. It’s capital is Edinburgh. The official language is English, but most people also speak Scots, which is a language derived from English, and only 1.5 % of the population speak Scottish Gaelic, which is a Celtic language. The National Day is St. Andrew’s day (November 30th)

Scotland flag

Coat of arms

Emblem: Thistle

  • Wales lies to the west of England. It was conquered by king Edward I of England in the 13th century. It’s capital is Cardiff. The Welsh speak English and Welsh, which is a Celtic language.  The National Day is St. David’s Day (March 1st).

Wales flag

Coat of arms
Emblems: leek and daffodil

The second biggest island, Ireland, is divided in two:
  • The Republic of Ireland or Eire, which is an independent country since 1922, so it is not part of the United Kingdom. Its capital is Dublin, and people speak English and Irish, which is a Celtic language.
  • Northern Ireland or Ulster is the smaller territory that lies in the northeast of the island of Ireland. Its capital is Belfast and people speak English and Irish. The National Day is St. Patrick’s Day (March, 17th)

St. Patrick's flag (Northern Ireland)

Republic of Irleand  flag

Emblem: shamrock

We have seen the flags of all the territories that conform the United Kingdom, but as a country, it also has a flag: the Union Jack, which is formed by the union of the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland, as you can see in the following video.

The Welsh flag is not included in the Union Jack because Wales was part of England long before the United Kingdom was born.
This is explained in this video by C.G.P. Grey. Even though he speaks too quickly for students of English to understand, I hope the subtitles can be helpful.

Teachers of English may be interested in this webquest by Joao Jardim Fernandes.

Finally, let’s check how much we have learnt about the UK today with the following test. By the way, the acronym UK stands for United Kingdom.


  1. Very clarifying, as usual! Well-done!

  2. It never fails to make my blood boil when Americans refer to the UK as 'England'.

    1. Not only Americans. Many people (including most of my students) don't know the difference between England, Great Britain and the UK. That's why I decided to write about it. Cheers!!

  3. I've just discovered your blog! Very interesting and clarifying post.

    1. Thank you very much, Anabel! I hope to "see" you back soon. Cheers!

  4. Thanks for great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this

    tips from you

    PPI Claims Northern Ireland

  5. I'm glad that you find this blog useful. Thank you very much for your comment, Rahul!

  6. Great post I have passed it on to my three cousins who are learning english from Bosnian language ...really good thanks
    Brian Eager

  7. Thank you very much, Brian! Cheers from Spain!


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