The Lesser Antilles, also known as the Caribbees, are part of the Antilles, which together with the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, 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 as a result of subduction when one or more Atlantic plates slipped under the Caribbean Plate.
The two main groups of the Lesser Antilles are the Windward Islands in the south and the Leeward Islands in the north. The Windward Islands are called such because they were more windward to sailing ships arriving in the New World than the Leeward Islands, given that the prevailing trade winds blow east to west. The trans-Atlantic currents and winds that provided the fastest route across the ocean brought these ships to the rough dividing line between the Windward and Leeward Islands.
A third category which is part of the Lesser Antilles is the Netherland Antilles. The Netherlands Antilles consist of two groups of islands, one in the southwest just off the coast of Venezuela, plus several others in the northeast .