[ brit-ish ]
/ ˈbrɪt ɪʃ /
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of or relating to Great Britain or its inhabitants.
used especially by natives or inhabitants of Great Britain: In this dictionary, “Brit.” is an abbreviation for “British usage.”
the people native to or inhabiting Great Britain.
the Celtic language of the ancient Britons.


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Origin of British

before 900; Middle English Brittische,Old English Bryttisc, equivalent to Brytt(as) Britons + -isc--ish1; see Briton


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does British mean?

British is used as an adjective to describe something as coming from or being related to the island of Great Britain or the people who live there, as in We drove through the British countryside.

British is also used as a noun to mean the people of Great Britain, usually as “the British.”

Great Britain, often referred to as just Britain, is a large island located off the northwest coast of continental Europe. It is made up of England, Wales, and Scotland, which are part of the United Kingdom (UK). There is no country called Great Britain. The name is used only to refer to the physical island.

However, the United Kingdom is often referred to as Great Britain or Britain, even though the UK also includes Northern Ireland. For this reason, the word British is often used to refer to things related to the island or the people who live there, as in The exciting tennis match was covered by the British media.

In a related sense, British is used as a noun to refer to the people who live or have lived on the island of Great Britain, as in The movie was more popular with the British than it was with Americans.

Example: The British people are proud of their island home. 

Where does British come from?

The first records of British come from before 900. It ultimately comes from the Old English Bryttisc, which was an equivalent of the word Bryttas, meaning Britons.

While it is correct to refer to people from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as British, people from the UK identify more closely with their regions. People from England are English, people from Wales are Welsh, people from Scotland are Scottish, and people from Northern Ireland are Northern Irish or just Irish.

The situation is more complex in Northern Ireland, which isn’t located on the island of Great Britain. Instead it is located across the Irish Sea, sharing the island of Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, people use three different terms to identify themselves: British, Northern Irish, or Irish. The terms Irish and British are used to legally refer to a person’s citizenship in Northern Ireland.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to British?

  • Britishness (noun)
  • Britishly (adjective)
  • anti-British (adjective, noun)
  • non-British (adjective)
  • pro-British (adjective)
  • pre-British (adjective)

What are some words that share a root or word element with British

What are some words that often get used in discussing British?

What are some words British may be commonly confused with?

How is British used in real life?

British is a common word that most often describes something as being related to the island of Great Britain or the country of the United Kingdom.

Try using British!

Which of the following places would NOT be described as British?

A. Scotland
B. United Kingdom
C. Northern Ireland
D. United States

How to use British in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for British

/ (ˈbrɪtɪʃ) /

relating to, denoting, or characteristic of Britain or any of the natives, citizens, or inhabitants of the United Kingdom
relating to or denoting the English language as spoken and written in Britain, esp the S dialect generally regarded as standardSee also Southern British English, Received Pronunciation
relating to or denoting the ancient Britons
of or relating to the CommonwealthBritish subjects
(functioning as plural) the natives or inhabitants of Britain
the extinct Celtic language of the ancient BritonsSee also Brythonic

Derived forms of British

Britishness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012