Northern Europe vs North Europe

I’m always confused with these two.
as far as i know,
when it’s separated, like North Korea and South Korea, north and south are used.
and when it’s not, like Northern England and Southern England, northern and southern are used.
then why is that
Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland (republic),
and South Island and North Island in New Zealand?

and i don’t know which is right, Northern Europe, or North Europe.
south southern, east eastern, and west western as well.

thanks in advance!

Hi Penny,

It generally depends on whether the compass description is part of the official description of the country or place or simply a description of an area. The ‘official’ description again is generally just the compass point as in North Korea/South Island. This of course doesn’t apply for historical and political reasons to ‘Northern Ireland’ as that is a separate country. Otherwise 'eastern, southern and so on refer to an area of a country.


How about these, Alan?

I live in the north (part) of England.
I live in the northern part of England.

Both express an area/a part.

Sure, but the question was originally about the use of ‘north/northern’ or whatever immediately before the name of a country or similarly named place.


thanks Alan!
so you mean, north, south and so on refer to a description of an area or a country,
while northern, southern and so on refer to an area of a country.
(i don’t think i’ve fully understood this though! kind of,!)

so, the correct one is ‘Northern Europe’. not ‘North Europe’ huh?

then, what about this?

Northern European countries
North European countries

should be ‘Northern European’ i guess?
it’s so confusing!

Hi Penny,

The best way to look at it is to use ‘ern’ forms when you are merely describing the area and the actual compass points (North/South/East/West) when you are referring to a country or continent. ‘Northern Europe’ describes for me a geographical area. ‘North Europe’ doesn’t work for me because ‘Europe’ is not a country.


What do we do with Northwest/ern England, for example?

If you’re describing the geographical area, I would say ‘northwestern England’, wouldn’t you?


Not sure. “He comes from northwest/ern England”. Which would you use?

We stick with North West England (the compass point description) as it is common, standard usage.

As it happens my parents live in the North West (area), but are not North Westerners (people) by birth.

It is rare to here the latter for the geographical area, as Alan has explained.

North Western, to my ear sounds like a possible music style akin to New Country; often bands such as Whiskytown are described as New Country.
I have a C.D. compilation titled Sounds of the New West.

So it is difficult to point to exact rules, but I think Alan´s thumb is very close to the usage and it´s link to meaning.

cheers stew.t.

Thanks, stew.t. BTW, your name sounds like that of a DJ, or maybe a rapper.

Hi Molly

If the moderators don´t mind a tangent theme.
The stew.t. came about due to two very different reasons.

Firstly back in the North West of England I used to hang around with a half dozen stewarts/stuarts, so we gave ourselves nicknames.
Secondly when I moved to Leipzig, there was another stewart in one of the schools, so I became known as stew.t. and him stew.c.

This has stuck, and has replaced my previous nickname of Tunni.

p.s. maybe I should copyright it, then if a DJ or rapper comes along and wants the name, I get some cash ; )

cheers stew.t.