Two groups of islands in the West Indies, bounding the Caribbean Sea on the north and east, respectively. The Greater Antilles include the largest islands (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), the Lesser Antilles all being much smaller. The name Antilia originally referred to semimythical lands located somewhere west of Europe across the Atlantic. After Christopher Columbus's discoveries, the Spanish name Antillas was commonly assigned to the new lands; “Sea of the Antilles” in various European languages is used as an alternative name for the Caribbean Sea.
Learn more about Antilles, Greater and Lesser with a free trial on Britannica.com.
The Lesser Antilles, also known as the Caribbees, are part of the Antilles, which together with the Bahamas and Greater Antilles form the West Indies. The islands are a long partly volcanic island arc, most of which wrap around the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea on the western boundary with the Atlantic Ocean, and some of which lie on the southern fringe of the sea just north of South America. The Lesser Antilles more or less coincide with the outer edge of the Caribbean Plate, and many of the islands were formed by subduction, as one or more other plates slipped under the Caribbean Plate.