Telling people which country I’m from is sometimes not as easy as it sounds. Am I really from Great Britain? Or England? And what exactly is the UK?

Yes, I was born in England, but England (along with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is only a part of my country. I don’t have an English passport.

The official name, which you can see on the cover of my passport, is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is, of course, very long and normally shortened to the United Kingdom or simply the UK. You’ll sometimes see it referred to as Britain, but rarely as Great Britain.

Great Britain is technically only an island. It’s the largest in the British Isles and includes the mainland areas of England, Scotland and Wales.

In German, there is no abbreviation of das Vereinigte Königreich, so instead, Großbritannien is the preferred shortened version of das Vereinigte Königreich Großbritannien und Nordirland. That’s why German speakers usually ask me if I’m from Great Britain, which somehow sounds strange to me.

To make it even more confusing, the countries of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have individual football (soccer) teams. (This was part of the deal when the Football Association of England agreed to join FIFA in 1905.)

And in the Olympics, Great Britain (or Team GB) is used as a shortened version of the full name of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic team.

I completely understand why it’s so confusing for non-British people. Here’s the important vocabulary:

  • I’m from the UK (Ich komme aus Großbritannien)
  • I’m British (Ich bin Brite)
  • I have a British passport (Ich habe einen britischen Pass)

Below is a graphic to help you see the difference.

Which one do you use?

uk, gb, eng (2019)