Is it the Magna Carta, or just Magna Carta?

Similarly, is it the Cutty Sark, or just Cutty Sark?

I ask because because I’ve visited both the British Library and the Cutty Sark recently, and both places consistently dropped the “the.”

I say “dropped” because I am an English teacher, the kind that would usually be responding to this thread, and as far as I’m aware ship names anyways take the, as do proper names that include a modifier but aren’t geographical names.

Am I just wrong? Or am I right, but things are changing?

FTR, I see a lot of signs in London that have article errors due to the writers not being native English speakers. In these two cases I don’t think that’s the issue - there were no other grammatical errors present.

I suppose it might depend on whether you consider it an English term or a Latin one. Terms co-opted from another language often retain their original articles: For instance, it’s “El Camino Real”, not “The El Camino Real” or “The Camino Real”. But Latin doesn’t have articles, so the Latin translation of “The Great Charter” would just be “Magna Carta”.

I assume in the instance of the magna carta, since latin doesn’t have articles the way English does, someone important enough thought having one in front of magna carta would be like saying the the great charter and forgot that we speak english, not latin.

Magna Carta - But many serious sites do refer to The Magna Carter, so it obviously isn’t all that incorrect.

No doubt a Latin scholar will give us the reason why.

There you go - Ninja’d

Although the hoi polloi commonly refer to it as “the Magna Carta.”


Can’t argue with the vox populi.

Is that less correct than “the Constitution” or “the Bill of Rights”?

“Constitution” and “Bill of Rights” are both unambiguously English words, with ties to no other language, so it’s clear that one should use English rules for both of them (i.e., including the article). “Magna Carta”, however, is a Latin term that’s used in English, and so one might legitimately debate which language’s rules one ought to use.

Or like “The La Brea Tar Pits”? :slight_smile:

Hmm, I’m not persuaded. I can’t think of any other Latin phrase used in English that doesn’t take articles just like any other English word.

I’m starting to understand the problem. It reminds me of a question I’ve had for a long time. Which of the following is correct, and can you give clear reasons for your choice:
[li]I read it in the New York Times. [/li][li]I read it in The New York Times. [/li][li]I read it in the The New York Times.[/li][/ol]

Marriott Edgar uses both forms in his Mag-a-na Charter monologue. (Though he also drops the “the” before “Waterloo Cup” and “tea-table,” so…)

Clearly (2) is. The New York Times is the name on the masthead of the paper. (1) would be correct if the paper called itself New York Times, and (3) is just silly.


According to Merriam-Webster, it came into the language through Latin, although the source is classical Greek.

Magna Carta is a Latin phrase, but in this context it is also the name of something making it an English phrase as well. Colis(s)eum is a Latin word, but The Roman Colis(s)eum is at least one of the common names of a particular building in Rome.

No, correct would be:

  1. I read it in The New York Times.

Little Nemo: didn’t you mean “can’t argue with the voice of the vox populi”?

Surely it depends on context.

“I am going to see the Cutty Sark”
“Cutty Sark was one of the finest tea Clippers”

“Magna Carta is at the root of our democracy.”
“The Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede.”

Cutty Sark btw is a Scots term.

I am not aware that shsips generally take the article; certainly not with frigates an destroyers named after cities once they have been identified as HMS …- “Sheffield” rather than “the Sheffield”. I have seen Ark Royal both with and without the “the”.

I’m aware that Cutty Sark is a Scots term (I did just visit the ship) but that doesn’t change anything. The different contexts you’ve listed don’t change anything either.

HMS includes “her,” so doesn’t need an article as well. Though I definitely have seen people use one, same as they sometimes say PIN number.

Would you say “Titanic sank in 1912” or “the Titanic sank in 1912”? The latter, surely?