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What is the difference between English and British?

On the surface, this looks like an innocent question easily understood and answered. However, when one starts to drill down into the details then it really starts to get complicated. Is this an ethnic or nationalistic question? Is it one of ancestry or one of the citizenry? Can a person be one and not the other? Can they look Asian, Middle Eastern or African and still be English or British or both?

England is a country, just like Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland or Ireland. Then there are the British Islands of Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey. So now, let’s break this down.

The British Isles consist of every country and Island just mentioned. Ireland, the island consists of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The British Islands consists of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey. The United Kingdom consists of Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.

So here we go. If you are from England, as an English citizen you are English. If you are from any of the countries in the British Isles you are British. This means that only the English, from England as a citizen can be both English and British. If you are from Northern Ireland, you are British with the Northern Ireland culture. Same as the Scots and the Wales! They are British but not English.

Here is a diagram expressing the ideas stated above. It should be clearer now to even the most casual observer.


However, that is not the end of the discussion. Because all we have covered now is what the geographical locations of being English or British are. Now the question comes down to ancestry and place of birth. Suppose two people fell in love that were born and raised in England. They married and they would be British/English. However, due to a career opportunity, they moved to Ireland and had a baby born in Ireland.  Then is the newborn British only or English or both? Again, this is a geographical discussion still. We would say he is British but not English.

If you wish to discuss citizenship, it depends on the laws of the country. You are only a British citizen if you were born before or after 1983 or before 2006. Different rules apply.ii So now we are discussing citizenship and not ancestry per se.

If this same couple moved to the United States of America and their baby was born in America, the newborn would be a United States Citizen and be neither British nor English. The baby would be an American.

Now this is not to say that the English culture would not be presented to and influenced on the child no matter where the child lived or what the country of citizenship is. In fact, very high probability that the child would act more American or Irish, depending on where he/she grew up.

The same thing would be true if an Asian couple from let’s say Taiwan moved to England and had a baby. This couple then sought after and achieved British or English citizenship. The baby would be English and British with an Asian heritage. Same is true of all the Middle Eastern or even Syrian refugees flooding the United Kingdom. The offspring will be British or English or both but perhaps maintain the Middle Eastern culture. However, the question of their citizenship will depend on the British or English governing laws of citizenship.

As you can see, what might have been a very simple answer to a simple question starts to become more and more complicated as time and generations move on. Going back two or three hundred years, the British or the English would most likely look very Caucasian or European. As time moves forward, and people migrate, intermarry, claim different countries of origin and cultures, things start to get a little blurred.

Heritage and citizenships start to get much mingled. So when someone says what is the difference between the English and the British? The correct answer is that it depends on more factors in our modern world than even one hundred years ago. For example, a person from Ireland is part of the EU and is British but a person from Northern Ireland is now not part of the EU and is also British.

Now we have a question of governance creeping in after the United Kingdom Brexit decision. So as you can see trying to answer if someone is English or British is simply complicated. So what can we as humans learn from this? No matter if you are English, British, American, or Asian or African we all have to learn to get along in this wonderful place we call earth. One thing is for sure, we are all earthlings.

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  1. Can’t everyone just be referred to as Brits? (All-inclusive terms work for me.)

    • No as the Irish are not British whatsoever as there not part of Britain. 90% of Ireland is a republic and 10% is part of the uk but as you should know uk is not Britain that’s why it says on uk passports Great Britain and Northern Ireland . Why is so hard for so many British to know there own simple geography ?

  2. “…if you were born before or after 1983…” Mmm, that’s an easy condition to satisfy. However, I don’t think that was what was actually meant; but I can’t think what was meant.

  3. A child born in the island of Ireland on or after 1 January 2005 is entitled to Irish citizenship if they have a British parent or a parent who is entitled to live in Northern Ireland or the Irish State without restriction on their residency.

  4. what if you can provide summary points of the article.

  5. Ok….still confused, perhaps more.

    Just one question: are the people of North Ireland british or not?

  6. How about England/Britian give Ireland back to the Irish.

    • I thought they had done so already, you have a government don’t you ?, a different currency ?, borders .,..how about a refund on my dodgy tarmac drive ? ,..oh no, cant find you !,.. only jokin!, look , the English look down on all Celtic nations ,they only need us in times of war,…they like to poke their noses into! , if you vote for the elites you will get them , thats why Celts and anglos will never be united.

  7. The English are not “as”British as the Celtic peoples of the UK as there was no England until it was founded after 1066, in reality the British isles was occupied by the Celtic countries , Wales, {then north Wales}Scotland/Picts , West Wales{now part of Devon & Cornwall} Mercia,Wessex, east Anglia {where the name England came from}, so, Wales and Scotland were part of Britannia that the Romans invaded but never completely controlled and were to fight for own rule/independence for hundreds against the conquered parts of Britannia ie Wessex, Mercia,Sussex,Anglia, that became united under a united”Anglian”rule to become England ,…thats how i understand it and have been educated in both England & Wales , in English schools system you learn only English history and “recent” British history, in Wales you are taught both, the Welsh language is the oldest living language in Europe , so that tells its own story right!.

  8. Your chart includes northern ireland in the United kingdom and the united kingdom oval is completely in the britsh isles circle but ireland its self is not but northern ireland is apart of the land mass of ireland so I’m a bit on the confuse and your doing me ah concern…

  9. You say “for example a person born in Ireland is part of the EU and is British” that’s is totally wrong and ignorant . Any body born in Ireland is Irish end of it’s a separate island altogether and nobody recognise being British except maybe the unionist but even still there not from Britain there from Ireland which means there Irish . Any Ireland isn’t part of the British isles we fought for our freedom for 800 years so we can’t be called that . Is the British and Irish isles now.

  10. You can be Welsh and British and Scottish and British! Most people in Wales and Scotland identity as Welsh and Scottish but not British! Britain is a state made up of 3 countries, not a country in itself!

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