Current evidence indicates that although they are correlated, health literacy (HL) and patient activation (PA) are distinct. This article describes how HL, PA and their determinants intersect and diverge and how these concepts might inform the development of self-management interventions. The concepts of HL and PA contribute to self-management interventions in different ways. HL includes the skills and confidence required for self-management while PA focuses more on motivation and ability to take action. In this light, communication of concepts on HL and PA needs to be more widely understood by academics, researchers and policy experts as each of them plays a unique role in promoting self-management for long-term conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.