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Isle vs. Island: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
An isle is a small island or used poetically for islands, while an island is a landform surrounded by water, larger and more commonly used in geography.
Isle vs. Island

Key Differences

Isle is often used to describe a small island or in a more poetic, romanticized context, like "the Emerald Isle" for Ireland. Island is a broader term, describing any landform, regardless of size, that is completely surrounded by water.
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In literature and common parlance, isle is sometimes preferred for its poetic sound and is often used in names, such as the "Isle of Wight". Conversely, island is a more general, geographical term used in formal contexts, like in "Greenland is the world's largest island."
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The term isle can also imply a sense of remoteness or exotic charm, often used in travel literature. Island, on the other hand, is a more neutral term, simply describing the physical characteristic of the landform.
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Isles are frequently associated with smaller landmasses in archipelagos, while an island can vary greatly in size and can be continental or oceanic, like Australia being a continental island.
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In historical contexts, isle is used in traditional or ancient names, such as "Isle of Man," reflecting historical or cultural significance. The term island is more functional, used in modern geographical and scientific contexts.
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Comparison Chart

Size and Usage

Often smaller, used poetically
Any size, used in general terms
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Connotation

Romanticized, charming
Neutral, geographical
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Context

Literature, names, travel
Geography, science, formal contexts
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Variability

Usually part of archipelagos
Can be continental or oceanic
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Historical Use

Traditional, ancient names
Modern, functional use
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Isle and Island Definitions

Isle

Small Island
We took a boat to the nearby isle.
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Nov 27, 2023

Island

Land Surrounded by Water
The island was surrounded by a crystal-clear ocean.
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Isle

Connoting Remoteness
They dreamed of an escape to a deserted isle.
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Island

Human Settlements
The island had a small, vibrant community.
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Isle

In Names and Titles
The Isle of Skye is famous for its scenery.
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Island

Habitat for Wildlife
The island served as a sanctuary for rare birds.
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Isle

Poetically Used for Island
The isle was known for its breathtaking beauty.
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Island

Geographical Landform
They studied the island's unique ecosystem.
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Isle

Part of an Archipelago
The isle was one of many in the chain.
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Island

Varied in Size
The island was large enough to have its own climate.
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Isle

An island, especially a small one.
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Oct 19, 2023

Island

Abbr. Isl. or Is. or I. A landmass, especially one smaller than a continent, entirely surrounded by water.
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Isle

A (small) island, compare with islet.
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Island

An unattached kitchen counter providing easy access from all sides.
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Isle

See Aisle.
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Island

A raised curbed area, often used to delineate rows of parking spaces or lanes of traffic.
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Isle

An island.
Imperial rule of all the seagirt isles.
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Island

The superstructure of a ship, especially an aircraft carrier.
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Isle

A spot within another of a different color, as upon the wings of some insects.
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Island

(Anatomy) A cluster of cells differing in structure or function from the cells constituting the surrounding tissue.
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Isle

To cause to become an island, or like an island; to surround or encompass; to island.
Isled in sudden seas of light.
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Island

To make into or as if into an island; insulate
A secluded mansion, islanded by shrubbery and fences.
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Isle

A small island
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Island

A contiguous area of land, smaller than a continent, totally surrounded by water.
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Island

(by extension, in place names) A contiguous area of land, smaller than a continent, partially surrounded by water; A peninsula; A half-island.
Despite its name, Barry Island is actually a peninsula
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Island

An entity surrounded by other entities that are very different from itself.
An island of colors on a butterfly's wing
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Island

A superstructure on an aircraft carrier's deck.
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Island

A traffic island.
The island in the middle of a roundabout
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Island

(by extension, West Midlands dialect) A roundabout; A traffic circle.
Dunton island, near Birmingham, is one of the most confusingly labelled islands in the U.K.
In Coventry, you will often hear people say: “Turn right at the island”.
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Island

A bench, counter, etc., that is not connected to a wall or other furniture and which can be used from any side.
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Oct 19, 2023

Island

(government) An unincorporated area wholly surrounded by one or more incorporated areas.
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Island

(grammar) A phrase from which a wh-word cannot be extracted without yielding invalid grammar.
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Island

(transitive) To surround with water; make into an island.
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Island

(transitive) To set, dot (as if) with islands.
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Island

(transitive) To isolate.
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Island

A tract of land surrounded by water, and smaller than a continent. Cf. Continent.
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Island

Anything regarded as resembling an island; as, an island of ice.
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Island

To cause to become or to resemble an island; to make an island or islands of; to isle.
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Island

To furnish with an island or with islands; as, to island the deep.
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Island

A land mass (smaller than a continent) that is surrounded by water
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Island

A zone or area resembling an island
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

Is "isle" used in formal geographical terms?

Less frequently; it's more common in poetic or traditional contexts.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

What is an isle?

An isle is a small island or used in a poetic sense for an island.
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Can an island be a country?

Yes, some islands are countries, like Iceland.
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Are isles always smaller than islands?

Typically, but "isle" can also be used for larger islands poetically.
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How is an island defined?

An island is a landmass completely surrounded by water.
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What are examples of islands?

Examples include Hawaii, Madagascar, and Greenland.
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Is the term "isle" archaic?

It's older and more poetic but still in use, especially in names.
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Why is "isle" used in romantic literature?

Its poetic sound conveys charm and mystique.
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What is the largest island in the world?

Greenland is the largest island.
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Do people live on isles?

Yes, people inhabit many isles, depending on their size and resources.
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Are islands affected by climate change?

Yes, many islands are vulnerable to rising sea levels and climate change impacts.
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Can islands have freshwater bodies?

Yes, islands can have lakes and rivers.
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Do isles have unique ecosystems?

Yes, like islands, isles can have unique flora and fauna.
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Are isles popular tourist destinations?

Yes, many isles are known for their beauty and attract tourists.
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Are islands always isolated?

Not necessarily; some are near continents or part of archipelagos.
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Can islands be part of larger countries?

Yes, like Hawaii is part of the United States.
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What cultural significance do isles have?

Isles often have rich cultural histories and significance.
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Can isles be man-made?

Rarely; the term usually refers to natural landforms.
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What wildlife is found on islands?

Island wildlife varies greatly, often with unique species.
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How are islands formed?

Islands can form volcanically, by rising sea levels, or through sediment accumulation.
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Shumaila Saeed
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Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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