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Isle vs. Island: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 5, 2023
An isle is a small island or peninsula, while an island is a body of land surrounded by water, irrespective of size.

Key Differences

Isle and Island both refer to landforms surrounded by water. The term Isle is often used to denote smaller islands or even peninsulas. Conversely, Island is a general term that encompasses any body of land, big or small, that’s surrounded by water.
Isle has a more poetic or formal connotation and is often found in literature, poetry, or place names. Island, being a broader term, is commonly used in everyday language and scientific contexts to refer to any insular landform.
Geographically speaking, there's no strict size limit that separates an Isle from an Island. However, the term Isle might be preferred for tinier landforms to evoke a sense of quaintness or charm. On the other hand, Island does not carry any such nuance and is neutral.
In literature, an Isle can symbolize isolation, paradise, or even mystery due to its smaller, remote nature. Island can convey similar meanings but without the inherent implication of size.
Ultimately, while both Isle and Island point to land surrounded by water, Isle is typically reserved for smaller landforms or carries a formal or poetic nuance, whereas Island is a more general term.

Comparison Chart

Size Implication

Often denotes smaller landforms
Neutral, any size

Usage Context

Poetic, formal, place names
Everyday language, scientific contexts


Small island or peninsula
Body of land surrounded by water


Can imply quaintness or charm

Literary Symbolism

Might symbolize isolation, paradise, mystery
Can convey similar meanings, no size nuance

Isle and Island Definitions


A small island.
The tiny isle was a haven for rare birds.


A place of isolation or detachment.
He lives on an island of his own making.


A piece of land surrounded by water, especially in literature.
Tales of a mysterious isle filled their evenings.


A landmass, smaller than a continent, surrounded by water.
Hawaii is an island chain in the Pacific.


A poetic term for island.
The isle of beauty lay shimmering in the distance.


A zone or area that is different from its surroundings.
An island of calm in a sea of chaos.


A peninsula or similar landform.
The isle extended into the turquoise waters.


Any body of land, irrespective of size, surrounded by water.
Australia is the world’s largest island by land area.


An island, especially a small one.


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


A (small) island, compare with islet.


An unattached kitchen counter providing easy access from all sides.


See Aisle.


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


An island.
Imperial rule of all the seagirt isles.


The superstructure of a ship, especially an aircraft carrier.


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


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


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


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


A small island


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


Often used in place names.
The British Isles are steeped in history.


(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


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


A superstructure on an aircraft carrier's deck.


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


(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”.


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


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


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


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


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


(transitive) To isolate.


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


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


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


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


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


A zone or area resembling an island


A thing resembling an island, especially in being isolated or detached.
A traffic island.


Can any land surrounded by water be called an island?

Yes, an "Island" is any body of land surrounded by water, regardless of size.

Can "Island" imply isolation?

Yes, "Island" can symbolize isolation, detachment, or even independence.

How does geography define an isle?

Geographically, there's no strict size limit differentiating an isle from an island.

Are all isles islands?

Yes, all isles are islands, but not all islands are necessarily referred to as isles.

Do the British Isles include both isles and islands?

Yes, the term "British Isles" encompasses both larger islands and smaller isles.

Is "Isle" a modern term?

"Isle" is older and often seen in classical literature or place names.

Does "Isle" only refer to natural landforms?

While usually referring to natural landforms, "Isle" can also denote peninsulas or similar features.

What's the etymology of "Island"?

"Island" derives from Old English "īegland", composed of "īeg" (island) and "land" (land).

Is an isle always smaller than an island?

Not strictly. "Isle" often denotes smaller landforms, but not always.

Can an "Isle" be part of a larger "Island"?

Yes, an "Isle" can be a smaller landform that's part of a bigger "Island."

Is "Isle" a formal term?

"Isle" has a more poetic or formal connotation, often used in literature or place names.

How is "Isle" used in literature?

"Isle" in literature can symbolize paradise, isolation, or mystery.

Can "Isle" be used metaphorically?

Yes, "Isle" can be used metaphorically to denote isolation or a sanctuary.

Are the terms interchangeable?

While related, they aren't always interchangeable. "Isle" often has a size or poetic nuance.

Can "Island" denote areas in a city?

Yes, terms like "traffic island" refer to raised areas in roads.

Which term is more commonly used in everyday speech?

"Island" is more commonly used in everyday language.

Is an atoll an island?

Yes, an atoll is a type of island, specifically a ring-shaped coral reef enclosing a lagoon.

Does "Island" have any non-geographical meanings?

Yes, it can denote isolation or areas distinct from their surroundings.

Which term is older, "Isle" or "Island"?

Both have ancient roots, but "Isle" comes from Latin "insula", while "Island" is of Old English origin.

Are islands always landforms?

Primarily, but "Island" can also denote zones different from surroundings, like a "traffic island."
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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