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Difference Between Great Britain and the United Kingdom

The terms Great Britain and The United Kingdom are often used interchangeably. However, this is not quite right, because although the two are closely related, they are not the same things.

The former is a geographical entity whereas the former is a political entity. Yes, Great Britain and the UK share similarities, but there are many differences to be aware of as well. 

Let’s determine what the main differences between Great Britain and the United Kingdom are.

What is Great Britain?

First, we have Great Britain, which is a geographical term that denotes the largest of all of the British Isles. Great Britain is located off of the northwestern coast of Europe, and is composed of three separate countries: Wales, Scotland, and England. It is separated from continental Europe by the English Channel.

Great Britain is surrounded by over 1000 other smaller islands, and is in fact the ninth-largest in the world. The island of Great Britain has been inhabited for many thousands of years, with a very rich history of settlements and invasions from the Romans, Vikings, Normans, and many more.

The Entity that we now know as Great Britain was officially formed in 1707 by the Treaty of Union, which unified England, Scotland, and Wales, which effectively created one entity, the Kingdom of Great Britain. In Great Britain, the dominant language is English, along with Gaelic and Welsh.

The island of Great Britain is quite densely populated, particularly the three capital cities, including Glasgow, Cardiff, London, and several other cities as well. To allow for easy transportation across the island, Great Britain has a substantially developed railway system. Keep in mind however that Great Britain is not the same as the UK.

What is the United Kingdom?

So, if Great Britain is a geographical entity, then what is the United Kingdom? The United Kingdom is a political entity, not a geographic one. This may also be referred to as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As you can tell by the name of it, Great Britain as a geographical location is technically a part of the United Kingdom political entity.

The United Kingdom is composed of four countries: Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland, with the first three being the countries of Great Britain. In terms of geography, the United Kingdom is an archipelago, which includes many small islands, the northeastern part of the Irish isle, and Great Britain.

The United Kingdom was formally formed in 1801, when Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain joined forces under what is known as the Acts of Union. However, in 1922, Ireland was divided and the Republic of Ireland was created, which left only the Northern half of Ireland as a part of the UK.  

The United Kingdom is ruled as a constitutional monarchy, along with a parliament, and this is a political entity that has exuded great influence over the world for several hundred years. The United Kingdom is a very diverse political system, with an extremely multicultural population. The UK is still heavily involved on the world stage, and often influences world proceedings.

Similarities Between Great Britain and the United Kingdom                

Before we talk about the main differences between Great Britain and the United Kingdom, let’s take a quick look at some shared similarities.

  • Both terms technically include Wales, Scotland, and England.
  • Welsh, Scottish, English, and Irish economies are all linked together.
  • The Parliament of Westminster serves both the UK and Great Britain.
  • Great Britain and the UK have integrated transportation and educational systems.
  • The NHS or National Health Service provides healthcare services across GB and the UK.
  • The terms are often used interchangeably.
  • The demographics of Great Britain and the United Kingdom are very similar.

What is the Difference Between Great Britain and the United Kingdom?

There are some pretty major differences between Great Britain and the United Kingdom, including the following:


Great Britain is a geographical entity that consists of England, Wales, and Scotland. The United Kingdom, although it is not a geographical definition, does include all of Great Britain, as well as the country of Northern Ireland, which means that the UK consists of four countries,

Political Structure

Great Britain is just a geographic entity and does therefore not have any political structure. The United Kingdom on the other hand is a sovereign state, complete with its own parliament. It includes the Parliament of the UK, as well as several smaller governments, mainly those from Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.


Great Britain is just a geographic entity and does therefore not have its own government. However, the UK has a central government that is based in London, which takes care of matters that affect the whole country, including England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The History

Great Britain was officially formed in 1707 by the Treaty of Union, whereas the United Kingdom was formed in 1801 by the Act of Union. Great Britain is technically almost 100 years older than the United Kingdom.


Great Britain does not offer citizenship, whereas the UK offers its own citizenship. Those from Northern Ireland can choose to have British or Irish citizens, or both.

The Flag

Great Britain does not have its own flag, whereas the UK is represented by a flag known as The Union Jack.

Great Britain vs United Kingdom


Is the UK and Great Britain the same?

No, the UK is a political entity and Great Britain is a geographic entity.

Is Great Britain a country yes or no?

Great Britain is a conglomerate of three separate countries: England, Wales, and Scotland, and together they form one country.

Why is Britain called Great Britain?

The word Great was simply attached to the word Britain by classical authors to romanticize the country.

What was England called before it was called England?

It was referred to as Danelaw Danelagen during the Viking times, and later as Engla land.

Why is the UK no longer called Great Britain?

The UK was never called Great Britain. These are two different things.

Are Scottish people considered British?

Scotland is technically a part of Great Britain.

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  1. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ARE countries

  2. What a load of baloney, there are 4 countries that make up the United Kingdom and 3 that make up Great Britain.
    Who ever wrote this (probably American) needs to go to some school that can put together a better geography class, and not think as everyone as subservients to America.

  3. What a load of nonsense. Scotland is a country.
    The U.K. is not.

  4. This was very clear and concise. Thank you

  5. Northern Ireland is Not a Country , but a collection of six Counties out of nine which make up the Province of Ulster Which is still and will always remain Part of Ireland .

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References :

[0]Cunningham, J. M. (2018, December 12). What’s the Difference Between Great Britain and the United Kingdom?. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/story/whats-the-difference-between-great-britain-and-the-united-kingdom

[1]Rentfrow, P. J., Jokela, M., & Lamb, M. E. (2015). Regional personality differences in Great Britain. PloS one, 10(3), e0122245. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0122245

[2]Lang, S. (2011). British history for dummies. Wiley.

[3]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEJIqCi_e8-destination-united-kingdom/

[4]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEJGDnHzQ4-great-britain/

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