I remember that the most famous/noteworthy works of literary merit are termed the canon,but is there a particular word or phrase that means the most famous/noteworthy works of a particular author? Could I use "canon" here too?

  • An artist's complete works of art can also be called his "oeuvre." Aug 22, 2013 at 11:19

4 Answers 4


An author's or artist's important work that shows her potential and reflects later development is often referred to as a seminal work

containing or contributing the seeds of later development : creative, original a seminal book


An artist's most significant work is often referred to as a chef d'oeuvre

a masterpiece especially in art or literature

The group of her or his masterpieces could be called chefs d'oeuvre.


The most famous and noteworthy work of an author, composer, director, etc. is most commonly known as that person’s magnum opus.

Magnum opus is Latin for ‘great work’, and as the form magnum ‘great’ belies, opus ‘work’ is neuter in Latin. Its plural form, opera, was later reinterpreted as a feminine noun in the singular (since these ended in -a in the stage of Vulgar Latin or Early French/Italian at the time). The Modern French result of that is œuvre, which has also been borrowed into English as oeuvre, used both an author/composer/director/etc.’s entire catalogue works (as noted in Francis James’ answer), and for an individual piece in that catalogue.

  • Yes, but that refers to a single work. The question asks about "works", plural. Is magna opera in common use?
    – verbose
    Aug 22, 2013 at 8:02
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    I didn’t even see the s there in the question—must have read over it too quickly. If specifically talking about several works, I guess I would use magnum opuses in a normal conversation or magna opera in a text. Aug 22, 2013 at 8:20
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    "magnum opuses"?! Perish forbid.
    – verbose
    Aug 22, 2013 at 8:22
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    In a normal, spoken conversation, I would probably be more likely to use a completely transparent plural (depending on whom I’m speaking to of course) to lessen the risk of not being understood. Similarly, I most often say ‘octopuses’, ‘stadiums’, ‘saunas’, ‘sagas, and ‘banshees’ in speech. In writing, especially in academic writing, I would be more likely to opt for the endonymic plurals ‘magna opera’, ‘octopodes’, ‘stadia’, ‘saunat’, ‘sögur’, and ‘mná sí’ (or ‘mná sídhe’ for that matter), in descending order of likelihood. Aug 22, 2013 at 8:32
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Just make sure you 1) don't use "antennae" to indicate two or more conductors by which electromagnetic waves are sent out or received, consisting commonly of a wire or set of wires; and 2) don't use "antennas" to indicate the jointed, movable, sensory appendages occurring in pairs on the heads of insects and most other arthropods. If you do, I'll call you on it every time! I'm giving you fair warning. Aug 24, 2013 at 0:52

Masterpieces or Masterworks

The singular of these terms originally referred to work of such high standards as to qualify the creator to be ranked as a guild master.

Masterpieces and masterworks should be considered works that meet that standard.

Today, the terms commonly refer to outstanding work in art or craft, as well as to the greatest work of its creator.


Just some thoughts -



Highlighted works

Selected works

Core contributions

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