• 2-minute read
  • 23rd January 2020

Word Choice: Uncharted vs. Unchartered

At first glance, the words ‘uncharted’ and ‘unchartered’ look almost identical. But the pesky extra ‘-er-’ in ‘unchartered’ changes the meaning entirely.

As a result, it is easy to use these terms incorrectly, even if you have a vague idea of what they mean! Luckily, we’re here to help.

Uncharted (Unmapped or Unknown)

The word ‘uncharted’ means ‘unexplored’ or ‘unknown’. It helps to remember that ‘chart’ is also a word for a map, so ‘uncharted’ means ‘not yet on the map’. This can apply both to physical regions and areas of knowledge.

We could use it in a very literal sense, like this:

We know little about the uncharted depths of the sea.

Or we could use it in a more metaphorical sense:

Nuclear fission is a largely uncharted area for science.

But this word is always about something unknown.

Unchartered (Without a Charter)

The word ‘unchartered’, meanwhile, is an adjective meaning ‘lacking a charter’. The charter here is a document that grants rights or authorises someone to work in a specific role. For example:

He ran his business as an unchartered bank.

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This means ‘unauthorised’ or ‘lacking regulation’. However, this term is rare in most contexts, so you should not need to use it on a regular basis.

Uncharted Territory

One common error with these terms occurs with the phrase uncharted territory. This figure of speech means ‘a new and unknown area’, usually in relation to a field of activity or thought:

Virtual reality is still uncharted territory for many entertainment companies.

As such, ‘uncharted’ is always the right word in this context. Remember:

Uncharted territoryCorrect

Unchartered territoryIncorrect

Uncharted or Unchartered?

Since ‘unchartered’ is so rare, most of the time the word you’ll need is ‘uncharted’. Remember:

  • Uncharted means ‘unknown’ or ‘unmapped’.
  • Unchartered means ‘without a charter’.

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