Are there grammatical etiquette guidelines as to whether to refer to a person from Great Britain as a British person or an English person? Is referring to a person as a Brit insulting, even if no insult was intended?

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    It's not a matter of grammar. The issue is that Great Britain has three distinct parts: England, Scotland, and Wales. – The Photon Nov 15 '14 at 22:54
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    I doubt anyone from the UK will take offence at being called British or a Brit. Calling a Scot, English might cost you a few teeth however so stick to Brit until you know for sure where they are from. – Joe Dark Nov 15 '14 at 23:32

The Brits call themselves Brits.
It's just an abbreviation, not a derogatory term.
You could avoid it if being formal, but in everyday conversation it's fine.

You could further sub-divide into English, Scottish [or Scots... never scotch, that's a drink not a person] & Welsh, but you'd need to be certain which they actually were.
It's easier not to guess & just refer to them as British.

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    Not all Bitish people call themselves Brits, and some dislike the word. See this thread: english.stackexchange.com/questions/25289/… – tunny Nov 16 '14 at 11:04
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    I admit it's a bit 'tabloid', with hints of 'Brits Abroad' & Union Jack swimming trunks - but I've heard its use in everyday conversation for years, & I refer to myself as a Brit with no qualms. – gone fishin' again. Nov 16 '14 at 11:09
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    @Tesujin. Like you, I refer to myself (informally) as a Brit, and have no objection to being referred to as such However, I know several Brits who are not happy with the word. – tunny Nov 16 '14 at 11:30
  • So, it sounds as if British person & English person are synonymous, although British person is the most widely used. Concerning the use of the term, Brit, some excellent comments are posted. Joe Dark doubts anyone would take offense. Tetsujin has no objection. tunny gives a link that some dislike the word. Conversing with someone with whom I'm on familiar & friendly terms, sure, it would be okay. If in doubt whether the other person would be offended, it would be best to say English person. – JimM Nov 16 '14 at 14:37
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    Not if they are not English - that's the whole point. 'Britain' comprises three countries. – gone fishin' again. Nov 17 '14 at 9:05

Grammatically, it's not incorrect if we say a British person or an English person, but such phrases seem a bit awkward. I think it's common and natural if we just say "He is British" if he is from Britain. However, we can say "the British" to mean people from Britain. If a person is from England, the usual word is Englishman.


Scots and the Welsh and the Northern Irish are not English, but they are British. Ironically, the Cornish are English but Cornish is not English.:-)

  • When you say "Cornish is not English", am I right in assuming that you are referring to the languages? – tunny Nov 17 '14 at 23:52
  • That is correct. – Duncan Anderson Dec 16 '14 at 21:52

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