• 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 authorizes someone to work in a specific role. For example:

He ran his business as an unchartered bank.

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This means “unauthorized” 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.”

If you would like to have an essay checked for errors, take advantage of the specialist service offered by Proofed today!

Comments (3)
Margie Canton
13th February 2020 at 10:26
This was an excellent read. Thank you for the explanations of these similar yet totally different words!
David Read
25th February 2023 at 21:15
The misuse of "unchartered" is quite common. I just saw it again in the Publisher's Note to a 1997 Dover edition of "The Seaman's Friend" by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., best known for "Two Years Before the Mast" -- "The nineteenth century lure of unfamiliar or even unchartered territory was as pervasive as the literature it spawned was popular." A rather good sentence but for the error.
    4th March 2023 at 13:03
    Good point, David. Thanks for sharing!

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